Tonnes of plastic garbage in the Pacific Ocean could disappear by half in five years with the help of inflatable collecting barriers, a 22-year-old Dutchman envisions.
Boyan Slat, who started his project called The Ocean Cleanup in 2013, said he will deploy their first floating barrier in 2018 to collect plastic which has accumulated in the “garbage patch” between Hawaii and California.
Slat contends that hundreds of species are already threatened with extinction because of plastic pollution, with the problem becoming more acute over time as larger chunks of plastic have broken down into smaller pieces and entered the food chain.
He says conventional methods like vessels and nets are not sufficient to collect the garbage. Instead, he proposes a floating pipe system, that will catch and concentrate plastic, together with a screen that will trap sub-surface debris.
The U-shaped, flexible floating boom, stretching 1-2 km (0.62 to 1.24 miles), is designed to follow the currents. The screen is meant to catch anything from coin-sized plastic particles to large fishing nets.
The collected plastic will then be brought back to shore and recycled.
The project, currently in the prototype phase, has raised $31 million, according to TheInertia website. Slat is still seeking additional funding.
Once the Pacific Ocean system is in place, the young inventor plans to roll it out in other ocean zones where man-made waste has accumulated, albeit in smaller quantities than in the Pacific.
Some marine experts have criticized the project, saying cleaning up in the middle of the ocean is a wasted effort and takes away from the real problem, which is the amount of plastic that enters.
Another problem posed is the possible disruption to marine life such as plankton.
Slat, who dropped out of university to start the project, said he had the idea of collecting plastic while he was diving in Greece when he was 16.
He now runs a team of more than 60 people and has the backing of some major companies such as dredger Boskalis and chemical group Akzo Nobel.