Plastic pollution is a reality. From the landfills to the oceans, plastic can be found everywhere, harming the ecosystem and affecting the lives of millions of organisms.
While driving in Greece, 16- year- old Boyan Slat was shocked at the amount of plastic and decided something had to be done. Ever since, he has taken steps combating plastic pollution and cleaning up the oceans.
Who is Boyan Slat?
Slat is a Dutch inventor and entrepreneur. He is the chief executive officer of the Ocean Cleanup, a non- government organization based out of the Netherlands. He is also the youngest recipient of the United Nation’s highest environmental accolade- Champions of the Earth, having won the award in 2014.
Slat was born on July 27, 1994 in Delft, the Netherlands. He has been interested in engineering since he was two. He used to build tree houses and zip wires. By the time he was 13, he was keenly interested in rocketry. His interest in the field led him to create a Guinness World Record for the most water rockets launched at the same time-213, from a sports field in his native Delft.
In the Summer of 2011 in Greece, when Slat found more plastic than fish in the water, he was taken aback. When people told him that there was no apparent solution to clean up the plastic in the ocean, Slat became curious. He started researching about plastic pollution and the alarming rate at which it was spreading.
Having always been interested in solving puzzles, Slat wondered if the ocean currents could be harnessed and if the plastic could make its way to us, rather than chasing it. He developed this idea as a high school project which was awarded the Best Technical Design at the Delft University of Technology.
Slat’s idea was to build an array of floating barriers that would catch and concentrate the floating debris in the ocean and then efficiently extract the plastic from a platform. The ocean current would pass underneath the barriers and there would be no emissions or nets which marine life could get entangled in. The collected plastic could be recycled or turned into oil.
The Ocean Cleanup
Slat joined the Delft University in the Netherlands in 2012 but his mind was still occupied by thoughts of cleaning up the ocean. He then set up a foundation called the Ocean Cleanup and explained his concept in a TedX talk. Then he took a decision to pause his university studies to focus on The Ocean Cleanup.
Slat had just 200 euros of pocket money at his disposal after he started the foundation. He realized the need to find sponsorship and began approaching people.
On March 26, 2013, months after his TedX talk, his video had gone viral and he started getting calls and messages in thousands from people around the world. People started visiting the site, with many volunteering to help. Slat then set up a crowd-funding platform where he managed to raise 80,000 US dollars in 15 days.
Soon, Slat assembled a team of nearly 100 members and began conducting feasibility tests. In June 2014, his team published a 530-page feasibility report based on several tests and simulations.
While there were criticisms about the feasibility of the project, Slat managed to raise another two million dollars through another crowd-funding campaign.
He continued to test and refute his concept. In 2018, his garage Collector System 001 experienced a critical mechanical malfunction when it was deployed by the Great Pacific Garage Patch. The system had to be called back and is under maintenance. However, the young inventor believes that the system will be up and running soon and the ocean will be rid of plastic in the near future.
What makes him special?
Slat was affected by what he saw in Greece, but he didn’t keep quiet about it. He worked to find a solution and crossed several hurdles to make The Ocean Cleanup and its project a reality. When he can do, we can also do. Let us do.