Sustainability

The Ocean Cleanup: Solving Our Plastic Problem

7 months ago

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The Ocean Cleanup: Solving Our Plastic Problem

The Ocean Cleanup

Dutch start-up ‘The Ocean Cleanup‘ have created a method of removing plastic from our oceans.

Founded in 2013 by then 18 year old Boyan Slat, The Ocean Cleanup is finally ready to be put to good use.

Whilst the ambition is to ultimately tackle all of the plastic in the oceans, the first target is to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

As I’ve referenced in a previous post, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is twice the size of Texas, so the scale of the issue is clear.

Impressively, they reckon that in just 5 years, they will have removed half of the plastic currently dumped there.

The Ocean Cleanup | Jason Wicks

So how does it work?

Traditionally, people thought that the only way to remove plastic was using some crazy network of nets. Not only would such a system be expensive, but it would most likely harm sea life in the process. Which sort of defeats the point.

The Ocean Cleanup therefore works differently. In essence, there is a massive tube that floats on the water. This tube is connected to a ‘geotextile-inspired’ screen. Because most of the plastic is at the surface, the screen doesn’t need to be too big. This means that sea life can pass underneath it quite easily. Floating with the waves, and kept in place by floating anchors, the plastic will slowly accumulate against the screens.

Support vessels will then pick the plastic up periodically.

Video

For a more visual explanation, check out the below video:

Why this is exciting

I love learning about clever solutions such as The Ocean Cleanup. It restores my faith in humanity somewhat. However, for me, there are 3 specific reasons why this is cause for celebration.

1. It was crowdfunded

Amazingly, The Ocean Cleanup crowdfunded this entire project. In 100 days, 38,000 funders raised over $2 million. I believe they’re now at over $30 million. That’s some achievement.

I like to think that this shows just how much people are caring about the environment. Maybe 15 years ago, people wouldn’t have bothered. It’s encouraging that so many individuals value these issues enough to invest in the solutions.

2. The founder is only 22

Like everyone, I do have some sort of existential crisis when I see people my age doing such amazing things. However, once I get over that, I find The Ocean Cleanup to be a fantastic example of young entrepreneurship.

We stand no chance of solving problems if young people aren’t committed to working on solutions. Lots of research has suggested that millennials care more about the environment that any other age group, but it’s refreshing to see it in practice.

3. It’s low cost and scalable

Compared to traditional solutions, The Ocean Cleanup is pretty cheap. Particularly when you look at running costs. If we’re ever going to make progress, it has to be financially viable. Otherwise, ideas will never get off the ground.

In addition, it seems pretty scalable. These systems are basically standalone units, so the obvious expansion plan is to just shove more of them in the oceans. In fact, they estimate that they could deploy 60 systems by 2020.

Boyan Slat, Founder of The Ocean Cleanup | Jason Wicks

The big concern

Don’t get me wrong, this is incredibly clever, and much needed.

However, I fear we are on a bit of a slippery slope when it comes to these sorts of innovations. By glorifying them as the perfect solutions to our problems, what incentive do we have to tackle the root causes? After all, we still need to stop putting plastic in the ocean in the first place.

Solutions like The Ocean Cleanup could just make people think ‘oh, we don’t have to bother about plastic now, those things in the ocean sort it all out’.

I spoke about this in my recent ‘White Roads‘ post.

We need to ensure that we’re balancing these solutions with preventative measures.

I worry that we are still viewing sustainability as something we can ‘achieve’. As if a few breakthrough innovations will sort everything out.

In reality, this, in itself, is unsustainable. We need to realise that sustainability will become an ongoing factor in our lives.

Only then will we make true progress.

Ocean Plastic: The Ocean Cleanup | Jason Wicks

Summary

  • The Ocean Cleanup is extremely clever and can help reduce ocean plastic.
  • The fact it was crowdfunded by a 22 year old is very impressive.
  • However, we shouldn’t let it distract us from the true problems.
  • We need to balance prevention and cure if we want to make progress.

Hi! I’m an author and blogger within the fields of social impact and responsible business. I believe that businesses can be a force for good in the world, and this website contains my thoughts on how that can work.

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