The Ocean Cleanup

The ocean-cleaning machine will ship to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch this summer.

By Marisa Spyker

When Boyan Slat first introduced his plan to rid the ocean of plastic five years ago, he was met with some skeptics. Slat was only 18 at the time, and the idea stemmed from a high school thesis.

Now 23, Slat is about to make ocean history. His Netherlands-based company, The Ocean Cleanup, is on track to deploy the world’s first ocean-cleaning machine in the largest concentration of plastic in the sea, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Boyan Slat
YURI VAN GEENEN/The Ocean Cleanup

While an ambitious endeavor, Slat has spent the past five years rigorously planning and preparing. His contraption is a massive curved tube with a filtering system that’s able to trap plastic without affecting sealife. The machine works by allowing plastic to pass through it, thanks in part to an anchor that keeps the whole thing moving slower than the currents.

Since 2016, the non-profit organization has been testing small prototypes to gauge the efficiency and durability of the device in the harsh conditions of the open ocean. Soon, a 120-meter section of the machine will be towed 40 miles into the Pacific for testing. And if all goes well there, the full-scale model—600 meters long—will arrive in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch later this year.

Related: Meet Our 2017 Ocean Heroes: 

Erwin Zwart/The Ocean Cleanup

The invention, while not able to capture microplastics, can trap plastics as small as a centimeter and as large as discarded fishing nets (which make up nearly half of the debris collected from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.). Once fully deployed, The Ocean Cleanup estimates that they’ll be able to clean up half of the patch—which contains an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic—in five years.

Sorry World Cup and World Series, but if we’re rooting for anything this year, it’s absolutely going to be for this (and the world's oceans in general, always and forever). Keep tabs on this amazing project here.

The Ocean Cleanup
The Ocean Cleanup