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The ocean's relief from plastic waste.

"Once there was a stone age, a bronze age--and now we are in the middle of the plastic age.", stated 18-year-old Boyan Slat in his TEDx talk in Deflt at Netherlands. The world actually produces 300 million tons of plastic every year; and enough of them are thrown away to circle the world 4 times during that same 365-day span. These materials are then primed to cause all sorts of problems for the environment in their theoretical 500 to 1000-year toil prior to degradation. In the meantime, our oceans suffer as the most impacted by humanity's reckless industrial drive.

More stats from indicate that 90% of all trash floating on the ocean's surface can be attributed to plastic waste, killing a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals annually through ingestion or a host of other circumstances. We should also be aware of five points of rotating ocean currents called gyres that were found to have the billions of pounds of plastic waste spread out over millions of square kilometers, entering through coasts and rivers farther inland. The most popular being The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located in the North Pacific Gyre off the coast of California. It is considered to be the largest ocean garbage site in the world with a floating plastic mass said to sum up to being twice the size of Texas. If we could only contemplate being in the middle of nowhere, more than a thousand miles from any coast, and to find that section still filled with our trash that inevitably poisons the food chain--something has to be done fast.

Enter teenage Boyan Slat, who had seen firsthand the ugliness of the whole situation as an avid diver. In one of his trips in Greece, Slat noticed that there were more plastic bags seen underwater than sea-life. This prompted the shaggy haired youth to act and make valiant efforts in researching the phenomenon and designing ways to help clean up this mess. The task was truly daunting. To get a more accurate scope, Slat contacted professors at the Universities of Delft, Utrecht, and Hawaii to come up with scientific estimates of how much extractable plastic there were at the top levels of the gyres. The result was determined to be a staggering 7.25 million tons by 2020, which was described to be the weight of a thousand Eiffel Towers. Slat also learned from Charles Moore (researcher and discoverer of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch) that it would take 79,000 years of costly conventional clean-up (which includes ships, nets and billions of dollars) to alleviate the problem as it stands.

To quote Slat sharing his novel idea in another talk he had done last year in New York City at age 19, "Why move through the oceans if the oceans can move through you? Instead of going after the plastics, you could simply wait for the plastics to come to you without requiring any added energy--an array of floating barriers would first catch then concentrate the debris, enabling a platform to efficiently extract the plastic afterwards." He had envisioned a way to use the very ocean current that has gathered these waste produces, and build solar-powered platforms that would scoop up and store 99.98% of all plastic that passes through these extending, specialized barriers. By-catch of any sea-life won't be an issue for they would only have to swim under these barriers to get through--a result of a study conducted that determined plastic particulates only float in the top 3 meters. Then the expense of scheduled pick-ups of the collected plastic by ship could be covered by the profit gained in selling these materials for recycling.

A comprehensive, 530-page feasibility study was published (also available online) covering questions about engineering, ecology, oceanography, maritime law, finance and recycling as a result of Slat building a foundation called The Ocean Cleanup. This allowed him to tap a whole team of over a hundred volunteers and professionals that assisted him to progress in leaps and bounds. The story went viral around the world as Slat was able to successfully launch a crowd-funding campaign that reached the 80,000 US$ mark within fifteen days. It is projected that using a single, 100-kilometer array deployed for ten years would rid us of almost half the plastic within the North Pacific Garbage Patch in only about 6 US$ per kilo.

An idea such as this did seem farfetched at first, but ample research and a singular determined effort could achieve something unimaginable. We certainly have our own environmental problems right here in our country; but it is feasibly sound to apply these innovative plans and implement them with our own set of studies to create wholly unique systems, which can go about tackling pertinent issues on a domestic scale--say for example, cleaning up Pasig River?

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Title Annotation:Tech Lifestyle
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Date:Jun 24, 2015
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