“I noticed more plastic bags than fish in the ocean”

21 year old entrepreneur is helping the oceans clean themselves

Pioneers Festival is taking place in Vienna this week, with start ups pitching their businesses and successful  companies sharing their "how I did it" stories. One of the success stories being told here is that of 21 year old Boyan Slat. I managed to catch up with him before he took to the stage. 

Boyan has founded and developed a business called The Ocean Clean up. The aim of the business is to rid the world's oceans of plastic; their point of difference being that they allow the ocean to do it itself, rather than using boats and nets. He explained how and when he came up with the idea.

“I actually 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. People told me that it was impossible to clean it up.” 

Traditional approaches for cleaning up the oceans involved boats and nets, but this method would take thousands of years and tens of billions of dollars to do so. Boyan Slat thought "why would you move through the oceans if the oceans can also move through you?" 

A teenaged Boyan Slat developed a passive technology which enables the ocean to clean itself. 

"It attaches to the seabed and basically looks like a very large letter V. What happens is the current moves around and pushes the plastic towards it, thereby becoming increasingly dense. We have shown that with a single one of these systems, deployed for 10 years we can clean up about half of the great Pacific garbage patch."   

Slat says that there are many benefits to his method. 

"As we don't use any nets, sea life can swim beneath it and it's also a lot more cost effective."

The 21 year old's eye are very much set on the future, with the Pacific clean up due to take place in 2020. The entrepreneur is also looking at ways to monetise the plastic they find in the ocean, either manufacturing items from it or selling it on.