In 2011, together with friend Tan Nguyen, Boyan Slat embarked on writing his final paper in the last year of secondary education, researching the possibility of remediation of the world's oceanic garbage patches. Spending over 500 hours on the paper (instead of the required 80 hours), it has won several final paper prizes, including Best Technical Design 2012 at the Delft University of Technology.
In January of 2013, The Ocean Cleanup Foundation was founded, a non-profit organization which is responsible for the development of our technologies.
Millions of tons of plastic debris are polluting world's oceans eternally. Plastic reaches the oceans mostly from land through rivers and waterways, and then accumulates in 5 areas of high concentration, called gyres.
Not only does it directly kill hundred-thousands or even millions of aquatic animals annually, its fouling may spread harmful algae and other invasive species, and furthermore serves as a transport medium for pollutants (including PCB and DDT), accumulating in the food chain. Plastic pollution costs governments, companies and individuals millions of dollars in damages per year, due to loss in tourism, vessel damages and (inefficient) beach clean-ups.
The ultimate solution to plastic pollution is clear; we need to close the tap, by ending our reliance on disposable plastic items/packaging, we need proper waste management globally, and we need to become aware of the problems our garbage is creating. It will require drastic changes on legislative, industrial and individual levels of society. However, even if we close the tap, we need to get out what's already in the oceans.
We'll need a combination of both worlds, and we'll need them soon.
Problem: The plastic is not static, it moves around.
Solution: Why move through the oceans, if the oceans can move through you? Fix the sea water processors to the sea bed, and save vast amounts of funds, manpower and emissions.
Problem: Oceanic 'Garbage Patches' are huge, and cleaning them up would result in huge amounts of by-catches. Furthermore there is a huge variety in debris sizes.
Solution: By using floating booms instead of nets, much larger areas will covered. No mesh means that even the smallest particles will be diverted and extracted. No mesh - together with its low speed - will result to virtually no by-catch. Although this hypothesis still has to be tested, even the planktonic species - due to their density being close to that of the sea water - may move under the booms along with the water flow.
Problems: A clean-up operation would generate significant emissions. Besides that, in high seas much plastic would escape.
Solution: The platforms will be completely self-supportive, receiving their energy from e.g. the sun, currents and waves. And by letting the platforms' wings sway like an actual manta ray, we can ensure contacts of the inlets with the surface, even in the roughest weather.
Problem: Conventional clean-up ideas have never been financially realistic, let alone remediation of millions of square kilometers.
Solution: This concept is so efficient, that we estimate that by selling the plastic retrieved from the 5 gyres, we would make in fact more money than the plan would cost to execute. In other words; it may potentially be profitable.