This 23-Year-Old Has a Plan to Rid the Ocean of Plastic by 2050

Take that, Baby Boomers.

Boyan Slat poses during the unveiling of the Ocean Clean Up North Sea Prototype.

THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS - JUNE 22: Boyan Slat poses during the unveiling of the Ocean Clean Up North Sea Prototype (background) to test advanced technologies to rid the oceans of plastic on June 22, 2016 in The Hague, Netherlands. The Ocean Cleanup's floating barrier will be tested for extreme weather at sea, to prepare for its eventual deployment in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. (Photo by Michel Porro/Getty Images)

Boyan Slat poses during the unveiling of the Ocean Clean Up North Sea Prototype.

In case you needed more proof of the fact that young people are saving the world, Dutch teen prodigy Boyan Slat, now 23, has hatched a project to cleanse the ocean of its plastic pollutants. Slat’s company, the Ocean Cleanup, is taking on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (yes, it’s a real thing), with “massive floating nets linked by a U-shaped tube,” The Daily Dot reports. The nets will trap the garbage as it moves with the currents. 

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is located between Hawaii and California, weighing an estimated 176 million pounds with an area of approximately 600,000 square miles. That’s about three time the size of France, but in plastic trash instead of brie and baguette. Of the 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic that make of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, most of it is discarded fishing equipment. The trash kills over 100,000 whales, seals, turtles, dolphins, and seabirds annually.

Somewhat ironically, Slat’s device is made out of plastic—high-density polyethylene, which provides a favorable amount of flexibility and durability, as it moves with the waves. While this contraption isn’t the first of its kind, what makes it different is that it doesn’t stay in a fixed position. Rather, an anchor that sits below the nets slows the whole system down, so floating trash can catch up with the net. Meanwhile, marine life follow the current below.

Ships come by every few weeks to collect the debris and take it to land where it can be recycled. The net is capable of trapping plastics as small as one centimeter. (That might sound small, but researchers are still concerned about microplastics, which can be less than five millimeters in length and sea life can easily mistake for food.) The Ocean Cleanup will launch its plan in July, taking on debris in the San Francisco Bay. The company plans to install 60 mile-long nets with the goal of ridding the ocean of plastic by 2050.

Latest in Life