What would you do if you knew there would be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050?
While no grown adult has solved this problem, at 16 years old, Boyan Slat decided that he would.
“I came up with this idea when I was still in high-school. I was 16 and I was diving in Greece. I realised that there was more plastic bags than fish. I wondered why can’t we just clean this up, but then I had to do a science project for school and I decided to use that time to investigate the problem.”
“Everyone said to me: ‘Oh there’s nothing you can do about plastic once it gets into the oceans,’ and I wondered whether that was true.””
Previous “adult” solutions involved boats and nets trawling the oceans, which would take thousands of years and billions of dollars. But Boyan through “why would you move through the oceans if the oceans can also move through you?”
So he came up with a new invention: A massive V-shaped wall that ocean currents push plastic into, where it is then collected: “It attaches to the seabed and basically looks like a very large letter V.”
One of these V walls, once up and running, could remove half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – 154 million pounds of trash – in 10 years instead of the 79,000 years current efforts would take.
And that forecast of more plastic than fish by 2050? It’s real. This January, the World Economic Forum came out with a report saying there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.
The report says that there are “over 150 million tonnes of plastic in the ocean today” and “the ocean is expected to contain 1 tonne of plastic for every 3 tonnes of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish (by weight)”. Today, 8 million tonnes of plastics enter the ocean each year (the same as one garbage truck every minute).
But thanks to what began as a school project five years ago, Boyan’s life mission to clean up the oceans has started a movement that could change all that.
What began as a single teenage decision became a global movement after he gave a TedX talk on his dream: “It was unbelievable. Suddenly we got hundreds of thousands of people clicking on our site every day. I received about 1,500 emails per day in my personal mailbox from people volunteering to help.”
Bryan’s idea then won Fast Company’s 2015 Innovation by Design award, was one of TIME magazine’s 25 best inventions of 2015, and one of the ‘Designs of the Year’ by the London Design Museum. His Foundation, The Ocean Cleanup, now with a staff of 40 engineers and researchers, is leading the drive to clean our oceans.
This month Boyan, now 21-years old, has raised 1.5 million euros from the Dutch governments and companies to build a prototype in the North Sea. He unveils it in Scheveningen harbour next week.
If a 16 year old can choose an impossible mission, and has gotten global support and recognition for it by the age of 21, what impossible mission is waiting for you to achieve?
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” ~ Nelson Mandela