For Dutch businessman Boyan Slat, attempting to address the issue of ocean plastic pollution has been a “long and painful voyage.”

The Ocean Cleanup, a non-profit conservation organization founded by a 28-year-old man, has been researching methods to remove plastic waste from the Pacific Ocean for almost ten years.

He told BBC News that it has been more difficult than he ever anticipated.

It turns out that the world is fairly large, Boyan said.

The first few years were primarily devoted to attempting to comprehend the issue because there are 1,000 rivers and five ocean garbage patches that need to be addressed.

The North Pacific Ocean is home to the largest collection of ocean garbage in the world, also known as “the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”

It has been one of the primary targets for The Ocean Cleanup team due to the significant accumulation of plastic debris it has collected, which ranges in size from large fishing nets to flake-sized microplastics.

The Ocean Cleanup makes use of a long, u-shaped barrier that boats drag through piles of trash. It moves carefully in an effort to protect marine life.

Artificial intelligence (AI)-powered cameras are used to constantly monitor the ocean’s surface for plastic and calibrate the team’s computer models, which aids in determining which regions of the Pacific to target.

There are some parts of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that are almost completely empty and other areas that have a very high density of plastic, he said.

“We can obviously be a lot more successful in our clean-up operation if we are continuously cleaning up inside those hotspots.”

The company’s second system of its kind, measuring 800 meters (2,600 feet), collects plastic that is occasionally transported to land and emptied for recycling.

Boyan claimed that the device has already removed nearly 200,000 kilograms (440,000 lbs) of marine debris.

Even though this amounts to just 0.2% of the 100 million kilograms of plastic in the biggest collection of plastic waste in the world, he insisted that it was still worthwhile: Everything great has a humble beginning, right?

By the end of the year, the team estimates that it will have collected 1% of the patch using its present system; however, they are expanding their operations in an effort to clean up patches more quickly.

For use in the summer, they are creating System 3, a 2.4 km (1.49 mi) long enormous barricade.

By deploying ten of these larger systems in the near future, The Ocean Cleanup aims to remove up to 80% of the plastic waste in the North Pacific by the end of the decade.

Stemming the flow

According to research done by the business in 2021, 80% of the plastic pollution in the world’s oceans comes from about 1,000 rivers.

According to Boyan, “the rivers are really the arteries that transport trash from land to sea.” Therefore, when it rains, plastic from the streets washes into the creeks, rivers, and eventually the ocean.

He claims that rivers’ swift movement can make preventing plastic even more challenging.

In rivers, he claimed, “you really only have one chance at catching the plastic because it just flows by and if you don’t catch it, it’s guaranteed to reach the ocean.”

The Ocean Cleanup attempts to intercept trash in waterways before it enters the ocean by using its “Interceptor” solutions.

The technology used for these differs depending on the river in question’s width, depth, flow rate, and debris type, all of which are measured using AI-powered cameras.

For the majority of operations, a conveyor belt is used to remove the trash from the water.

Boyan stated, “We are intercepting plastic in 11 rivers across the globe, but ultimately hope to scale this to all 1,000 of the world’s most heavily polluted rivers.

‘Stopping the tap’

According to Prof. Richard Lampitt of the National Oceanography Centre, using boats to transport nets and plastic from ocean garbage areas to ports could have a significant carbon impact.

Years later, he claims he is still skeptical about this, but he is much more optimistic about focusing on trash in waterways.

The environmental expenses, he claimed, are drastically reduced. “You don’t have to travel 1,500 kilometers to get the goods.”

Prof. Lampitt noted the dangers that microplastics pose to the marine ecosystem’s core, but added that he believed that rather than eliminating plastic from our oceans, “it is really a matter of stopping the tap and preventing this material from getting into the ocean.”

He said, “I cannot imagine any way that you can remove these from the natural environment from the ocean without severely harming the food webs, and of course it taking an awful deal of energy to do it.

Boyan has high expectations for the future, despite the fact that combating the global issue of marine pollution is certainly difficult and dependent on lower plastic production and consumption in the first place.

“I firmly think that we will be able to put ourselves out of business in the not-too-distant future with these technologies to clean up the legacy pollution in the ocean and to intercept plastic in rivers before it enters the oceans,” he continued.


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