On September 8th, the Ocean Cleanup’s array finally weighed anchor and headed out to do its job. Image: The Ocean Cleanup/Facebook

Slat, who turned 24 on July 27th, is the creator of the Ocean Cleanup, an organization attempting to remove plastic from some of the most trash-filled areas of the ocean, starting with a region so full of debris that it’s referred to as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

It’s been a long road for the Ocean Cleanup team. It was 2013 when Slat founded the non-profit that’s focused on “developing advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic.”

“After 5 years of research, engineering, and testing, we launched the world’s first ocean cleanup system from San Francisco Bay, marking the start of the cleanup,” the Ocean Cleanup announced. “The system is now on its way to an intermediary test stop, 250-350 nautical miles offshore for a 2-week trial before continuing its journey toward the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, 1,200 nautical miles offshore, to start the cleanup.”

There’s a mind-boggling amount of plastic in the oceans, and that amount grows every day. At least 8 million metric tons of plastic pour into the sea every year – a number that’s considered a low estimate, since it doesn’t include commonly found debris like fishing nets. As this trash breaks down into tinier and tinier bits, much of it is eventually carried into one of five massive ocean regions, where plastic can be so concentrated that areas have garnered names like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
 

 

The design idea is simple in theory and will harness the natural forces of the ocean to collect the plastic. Like a giant snake, made up of sections of tube, it’s 600 m (2,000ft) long and will float in a giant ‘U’ shape. Beneath it a screen will hang down 3m (10ft). Because the plastic is floating just at or slightly below the surface, it only drifts with the force of the ocean currents. But because the collection system is also being shifted by the wind and waves, it should travel about one knot faster, shepherding the plastic into a dense mass.
 

 

Never before has anyone gone further by trying to clear the stuff from the middle of an ocean and, despite sea trials and computer modeling, no-one knows if the experiment will work. Some experts worry that the effort is a distraction from the more pressing task of stopping more plastic getting into the sea in the first place and take away from the pressing fact that much plastics can be recycled. But Boyan and his team at The Ocean Cleanup non-profit believe the sheer scale of plastic out there demands that action be taken.