Cleaning the ocean of plastic | The Economist

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Plastic pollution is devastating marine wildlife and risking human infertility, birth defects and cancer. Find out why our unlikely saviour could be a 21 year old from Holland.

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One of the year’s big environmental concerns will be an issue that much of the world has yet to even notice. Annually 8 million tons of plastic are washed into our seas, much of which is caught in oceanic currents, but this year the world will wise up to its devastating impact and in the summer of 2016 an unlikely team will set out to fix it.

In the small Dutch town of Wageningen trials are being carried out in preparation for an unprecedented cleanup operation and it’s mastermind is 21 year old Boyan Slat.

The effect of plastic like this making its way into the ocean is devastating. At least 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals die each year due to plastic pollution which is threatening the survival of endangered species. When these tiny pieces of plastic are ingested by fish they bring toxic chemicals from the ocean into the food chain and ultimately increase the risk of human infertility, birth defects, and cancer.

Boyan may seem like an unlikely Savior but no single nation has responsibility for international waters so he’s taken on the challenge. His vision has attracted finance from around the world and support of global leaders in science and engineering. His team has designed a floating barrier to catch the plastic. It’s being put to the test for the first time.

In the summer of 2016 boyens team will travel to the coastal waters off Japan and moor a first version of the barrier onto the seabed.

From two kilometers in 2016 to a hundred kilometers by 2020 this is a computer visualization of the floating barrier in position in the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The plastic is drawn to a central silo from where it can be taken away for recycling. The audacious plan is not without its critics but Boyan claims the barrier will eventually collect around 40% of all plastic in the North Pacific.

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