New Ocean Cleaning Device Making Waves!

13Imagine a device that, in just a few short years, could clean the world’s oceans. Well soon, the “Ocean Cleaning Array” could be a reality! Invented by Boyan Slat, a 19 year old engineering student from the Delft University of Technology, the array could be strategically situated near the ocean’s 5 gyres (massive concentrations of garbage created by the oceans’ rotating currents).  It could remove an estimated 7,250,000,000 kg of surface plastic over a 5 year period.

So how does it work? The array is composed of floating booms and a processing platform, anchored to the seafloor. The booms surround a gyre and, due to their angle, funnel the plastic garbage into the platform. Inside, the garbage is filtered out of the water and stored for eventual collection. The entire process is powered by energy from the sun and waves passing through the platform. No nets or mesh are used, ensuring “virtually no by-catch” of sea life.

Despite a relatively simple design, the array’s benefits could be massive. Every year, plastic in the world’s oceans directly kills millions of aquatic animals (due to entanglement, consumption etc). It also helps spread harmful algae, invasive species, and pollutants (like PCB and DDT) throughout the food chain. Finally, plastic garbage can damage sea vessels and, when washed ashore, impact tourism. As a result, governments and organization attempt to remove plastic at a cost of millions of dollars a year.

The Ocean Cleaning Array has another key advantage. If the plastic collected from the array is sold for recycling, it could generate $500 million annually. In the words of Mr. Slat, “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”.

But the array invention is still just a concept. It is currently undergoing a feasibility study and requires financial backing and several key experts. To help secure such resources, Mr. Slat established the Ocean Clean-Up Foundation, a non-profit, earlier this year.

Furthermore, the array is not a panacea for the world’s garbage problem. While the array’s plastic remediation offers real promise, it must be paired with on-land prevention. This means that humans must reduce their consumption of disposable plastic items and manage waste responsibly, though reuse and recycling.

To learn more about the array, please visit the official website. To help clean our oceans, please support our partner, the Ocean River Institute.

Flickr photo credit: Warren Antiola 

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