The Pacific Ocean has a plastic problem, and a 19 year old Dutch Aerospace Engineering student may have come up with the solution. You see, the so-called “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” doesn’t look anything like the photo above. This photo was probably taken somewhere like Manila, according to marine biologist Miriam Goldstein, who has recently been involved in studying plastic pollution in the Pacific. You can see a video about her work HERE. According to Dr. Goldstein:

Most pieces of garbage in the Pacific are “about the size of your pinkie fingernail.” Though she and her team have found some larger pieces of plastic, like buoys and tires, most are microscopic. What’s alarming about them isn’t their size, but the sheer amount of plastic. To figure out how much there really is, she and her team have trawled the surface of the ocean in random locations over a 1700 square mile region in the gyre. Once a day, they drag a very fine, specialized net behind the boat. On one such sampling trip, she and her team found plastic pieces in 117 out of 119 random samples. On another, they found plastic in all 28 samples they took. 

Areas of Pacific Garbage

While recovering large chunks of visible plastics may be a viable recycling method, and is being tested in the UK, the microscopic nature of most of the plastic in the Pacific makes it impossible for these methods to deal with plastic pollution. That’s where Boyan Slat comes in.

Boyan Slat is the Dutch 19 year old who has come up with a radical new invention that could clean the oceans of plastic while remaining emission-free. His concept uses booms and processing facilities that would collect plastic while allowing both fish and plankton to pass, a crucial test of sustainability as this will eliminate by-catch and preserve oceanic species. While many are stating that the plastic collected could be profitably recycled and reused, Slat’s website warns that he is approximately 25% of the way through the feasibility study for his project, making it too soon to assume that the project will turn out to be a profitable plastic recycler, rather than a collector and pollution mitigator.

Watch the TED talk below to hear this teen’s idea on how we can (profitably?) clean our oceans.

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