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Get to Know the World’s First Machine to Clean Plastic from Oceans


Plastic waste is fast becoming a global environmental concern with the annual consumption of plastic rising at an alarming rate to reach an all-time high of 320 million tons per year. A great illustration of this global epidemic is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which is a mass of floating plastic waste off the coast of California comprising of 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic and spans an area twice the size of Texas with over 600,000 square miles of plastic debris.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a mass of floating plastic waste off the coast of California comprising of 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic

A teenager to the Rescue?

24 Year old Boyan Slate believes he has devised a system that could potentially rid our oceans of the 7,250,000 tons of plastic waste and employs a network of floating screens designed in a V-shape that would use the oceanic currents to gather and funnel plastic waste which would then be stored for recycling. This ingenious system was first envisaged by Slate 6 years ago when he was just a teenager at school working on a science project which would eventually earn him several awards and prizes.

If the forecasts and the optimal trajectory is to be believed, the entire cleanup process of the world’s oceans could take merely five years to complete, if done properly by incorporating the cleanup along with public awareness of the epidemic by stressing the importance of recycling, since continuous use of plastic and subsequent dumping of waste in the ocean could lead to a vicious cycle where the cleanup process would be unable to keep up with the sheer magnitude of global plastic consumption and waste.

A Novel Cleanup System

The latest prototype of the system has already been tested in the North Sea and the organization plans to launch a trial operation in the Northern part of the Pacific Ocean this year with plans to scale up its operations between 2019 and 2020 when it plans to put a fleet of 50 systems into operation in the Northern Pacific

The system consists of an array of floating booms which shall be anchored into the ocean to ensure they don’t drift away (since the earlier prototypes of this system were prone to being drifted away by ocean currents).

The problem faced by the design team for this system was the varying speed of water currents in the oceans, especially at different depths; at surface levels, the speed of ocean currents is typically between 16 to 17 cm per second on the surface, but just a few hundred meters deeper, the currents reach merely 3 to 4 cm per second which makes a big difference when designing a system which employs the water currents of the ocean to optimize its own efficiency.

The system spans the length of a particular garbage patch in the ocean and the floating booms are tilted at an angle that forces plastic waste to flow inwards towards the direction of processing platforms which then filter and store the waste for recycling.

Toxins found in plastic are also directly relate to medical conditions like cancer, birth deformities, and immune system dysfunctions

The Threat Posed to Our Oceans

The accumulation of harmful plastic waste in our oceans not only poses a threat to marine life but also humans; the release of harmful chemicals by plastic waste in the oceans which are in turn ingested by sea animals and birds can lead to various health hazards due to consumption of contaminated fish and birds. The toxicity of plastic comes from materials like lead, cadmium and mercury along with other polymers like Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) which is considered to be a poisonous chemical.

Additionally, toxins found in plastic are also directly relate to medical conditions like cancer, birth deformities and immune system dysfunctions. The biggest part of this epidemic the failure of humans to realize the magnitude of the problem and their lack of commitment towards the lifestyle changes that could drastically improve the health and reduce the degradation of our oceans and aquatic marine life. We as a human race must address the threats posed to our ecology and take initiatives to preserve our natural resources before it’s too late and we end up killing our aquatic wildlife, and possibly even ourselves.

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