Recent studies by Jenna Jambeck, a researcher and associate professor at the College of Engineering at the University of Georgia, have shown that about eight million tons of new plastic find their way into the oceans every year. Natural forces bring this material into five large systems of circular ocean currents, called gyres. These accumulations of debris, known as “plastic soup,” measure up to thousands of miles in diameter. Wave action, weathering, and sunlight degrade the plastic into small particles called microplastics. As the material breaks down, it releases toxic components into the water. (Micro)plastic particles settle on the ocean floor and wash up on the beach polluting our environment. They are also consumed by marine wildlife, thus entering our food chain.
Boyan Slat (Delft, 1994) decided this had to stop. As a high school student, he wrote his senior science thesis on using natural currents for cleanup rather than inefficient conventional vessels with dragnets. Slat continued work on this idea, and by 2013 he decided to put his aerospace engineering studies at Delft University of Technology on hold to devote himself full-time to his foundation, The Ocean Cleanup. He collected more than two million dollars via crowdfunding to continue developing his passive plastics gathering system. It consists of a gigantic, V-shaped array of floating containment booms, 100-kilometers-long, that funnel drifting plastic towards a central storage platform. It is planned that every six weeks, a ship will collect the accumulated debris and take it ashore to be recycled.
To see if Slat’s design can withstand heavy seas and bad weather, a prototype was deployed off the coast of Scheveningen this past June, to be field-tested in the North Sea. A small-scale test version of the system will be installed near the Japanese island of Tsushima in 2017. It is hoped that by 2020, the first fully operational installation will be deployed in the Pacific Ocean. Feasibility studies have shown that ten years of operation should clean up half the plastic in the most polluted gyre, the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” in the North Pacific.
Boyan Slat is one of the 26 designers and studios that are selected for the group show Dream Out Loud – Designing for Tomorrow’s Demands. The exhibition can be visited from 26 August 2016 in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Read more about the exhibition or order tickets.