Boyan Slat is used to trash talk. The 22-year-old Dutchman serves as chief executive of Ocean Cleanup, a foundation that plans to remove plastic from the seas using a 62-mile-wide device he dreamed up as a teenager. It’s a project that has attracted millions of dollars — along with plenty of scientific skepticism.
And it’s the subject of “The Crowdfunded Conservationist Who Wants to Save the World,” an article in the January/February issue of Outside magazine.
Writer Andrew Lewis sketches out Slat’s boy-genius backstory: When he was 16, he went scuba diving in Greece and was appalled by all of the debris in the water. The experience inspired Slat to develop a potential solution. As Lewis explains, it’s a massive “V-shaped floating barrier (think of a giant pool noodle with a five-foot fin extending below the water’s surface).” The idea is that currents will sweep in the trash, and a receptacle at the vertex of the device will trap it.
No one questions the severity of the plastics problem. “About nine million tons of plastic waste makes its way into the oceans each year — by 2050, plastic will outweigh fish,” Lewis writes.
But Slat’s idea has drawn doubts from scientists who don’t believe it’s feasible to make such a device work in harsh conditions. Other activists are concerned that it could divert attention from policy efforts focused on reducing dumping.
None of that has stopped Slat from organizing crowdfunding campaigns and continuing to work on the project. “Slat regards his critics the way a teenager greets parents who just don’t get it,” Lewis writes.
In June, the two boarded a fishing boat to check out a 328-foot prototype being deployed in the North Sea. “Human history is a list of things that couldn’t be done and then were done,” Slat told Lewis.
In this case, there’s still more doing ahead. The prototype was removed from the water just a few months later after sustaining too much damage from the wind and waves.