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A Dutch 22-Year-Old Came up with an Out-Of-The-Box Answer to the Ocean Trash Problem

You're never too young to change the world. Just look at 22-year-old Boyan Slat: he invented a groundbreaking trash-collecting system that could potentially rid the ocean of plastic waste. We'd call that a win for millennials everywhere.

Takin' Out The Trash

In case you haven't heard: the ocean is full of trash. National Geographic estimates that there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in our oceans, and five huge "garbage patches" contain the bulk of all that trash. Experts believe that attempting to clean it using boats and nets could cost billions of dollars and take thousands of years. Luckily, Dutch millennial Boyan Slat came up with an out-of-the-box fix for that problem. His design is essentially a giant, floating V-shaped device with nets that acts as an artificial barrier. Instead of picking up plastic piece by piece, it catches debris using the power of the ocean's natural currents. Every few months, the debris the device has amassed can be easily collected by boat and transported to shore. What will happen to the plastic next, you ask? It'll be sold to manufacturers as recycled material. Easy.

Slat's startup, dubbed The Ocean Cleanup, has already raised millions of dollars in donations. In June 2016, the company developed a 100-meter prototype, which they whimsically named Boomy McBoomface (a nod, we assume, to the internet darling Boaty McBoatface). They deployed "the Boomster" into the Netherlands' North Sea, which is known for its extreme aquatic conditions. The goal is to test it and see if it can survive, and then make whatever design changes are needed. Once it's fully functioning, they plan to begin by launching the system in the Pacific Ocean and cleaning the planet's largest garbage patch, and then move on to the others from there.

Computer rendering of the device in the ocean.
Boyan Slat in front of a prototype of his barrier.

A Modern-Day Captain Planet

Despite Slat's ambitious design, there's still a ways to go before clean oceans become a reality. Even so, Slat tells CNBC, "Big problems require big solutions. There is this notion that is quite popular in the environmental scene that every little bit helps, or 'think global, act local.' I disagree with that. I think you have to start with how big the solution needs to be to solve the problem and then reason backward from there."

Watch And Learn: Our Favorite Content About Cleaning The Oceans

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Written by Sam Suarez June 1, 2017

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