Have you ever thought about where your waste goes after you toss it into the garbage can? Or where the leftover food at a restaurant ends up?
One of the biggest environmental problems in the world right now is the vast amount of waste that humans produce. More specifically: municipal solid waste such as paper, plastic, food, product packaging, bottles, clothing, batteries, etc, that originate from our homes, schools, and workplaces. In 2015, about 137.7 million tons of MSW (municipal solid waste) were landfilled. Food was the largest component at about 22 percent. Plastics accounted for about 19 percent, paper and paperboard made up about 13 percent, and rubber, leather, and textiles comprised about 11 percent.
However, due to the lax standards in industrial processes, products that are not disposed of properly or escape during the transportation of MSW end up in the surrounding environments.
It's then deposited into oceans through forces of water, wind, and erosion and form giant clumps that float and congregate in certain places in the world. In the Philippines, for example, 2.7 million tons of plastic waste is generated annually and 20 percent – or half a million tons – of that leaks into the oceans, clogging drainage canals and swirling in waterways. One of the better-known sites for mass amounts of waste includes Manila Bay, which was ordered by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) in 2010 to be cleaned and restored to its former state.
In order to stop the copious amounts of waste humans accumulate from polluting the ocean, we must reduce the number of plastics and MSU we use in our day to day lives and in society as a whole. But, we also need to address the MSW that is already present in our ecosystems which is negatively affecting wildlife and disrupting the natural flow of energy within those ecosystems.
Boyan Slat, a young Dutch inventor and entrepreneur, created the company The Ocean Cleanup in which he is currently the running CEO. Slat wanted to come up with a way to gather all of the plastic/MSW crowded in the oceans and dispose of it properly. But, instead of going directly after the plastic, Slat devised a system though which, driven by the ocean currents, the plastic would concentrate, reducing the theoretical cleanup time from millennia to mere years.
It all started when Slat was sixteen and took a trip scuba diving in Greece, and he was surprised to see more plastic than fish. What began as a high school science project lead to a full-blown plan that he presented in a TEDx talk in 2012. After that, he dropped out of studying Aerospace Engineering at TU Delft and devoted all of his time to create The Ocean Cleanup. Since then, his TEDx presentation was picked up by lots of new sites and shown to thousands of people, and soon after the company took off.
Boyan Slat: How we will rid the oceans of plastic (May 2017)
In 2016 The Ocean Cleanup launched its first prototype in the North Sea and has been collecting steady data since then. The most recent milestone they've reached is their second cleanup system in June of 2019, which is still running to this day.
On October 26th, The Ocean Cleanup will be unveiling the new secret side project that they have been working on for four years to the public. In addition to Slats's current innovations, this new project will hopefully be another solution to the waste problems in our oceans. With young minds like Boyan Slat and the platforms of social media to spread awareness, there is hope that more ideas will be found, shared, and brought to life to help reduce the impact waste has on our world.
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