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The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is WORSE than we thought.

Light and Shadow off Devil's Slide

Many of the school kids I meet know about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. While politicians TALK, the Garbage Patch just GROWS.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it is a mass of floating plastic debris, estimated to be twice the size of Texas and concentrated between California and Hawaii. The Garbage Patch was first described in 1997, 18 years ago. Like several of our other large environmental problems, we do not have an unlimited amount of time to spend in discussion or in actual work on the problem.

Fortunately, this particular environmental problem has a champion – Boyan Slat, a 21-year-old Dutch entrepreneur, who describes the Garbage Patch as “a ticking time bomb,” is orchestrating what he believes to be the largest ocean cleanup in history.

Why is the problem “a ticking time bomb?” Why do we need to start a cleanup NOW (after all, we have known about the problem for 18 years)?

The urgency to launch a cleanup, Slat says, is that sunlight, together with legions of tiny hydrocarbon consuming organisms, can turn large chunks of plastic into a “plastic soup” of little bits, virtually impossible to retrieve.

“If we don’t clean it up soon, then we will give the big plastic the time to break down into smaller and smaller pieces,” he said at a news conference showing off the finds. “Based on what we’ve seen out there, the only way to describe the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a ticking time bomb.”

Meanwhile, every week, enough garbage to fill the Empire State Building twice flows into the ocean. Much of it comes from the land, but at least a fifth of it is dumped at sea by fishermen, he said.

When Slat was 16, diving off the coast of Greece, he saw more plastic bags than fish in the Mediterranean. His reaction:

“I was wondering, why can’t we just clean this up? Why isn’t anyone working on this?”

Like some other brilliant entrepreneurs, he dropped out of college. Slat developed a novel approach to the cleanup that would allow a rapid solution and would cut costs.

It involves deploying an array of floating barriers anchored to the sea floor, which would extend in a V-shape 30 miles in both directions to use the ocean current to drive the debris to the center. The plan is expected to be tested in Japanese waters next year.

A recent feasibility study estimated that half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch could be cleaned up in 10 years. Slat’s recent 30-vessel survey expedition of 80 locations in the Garbage Patch revealed some good news. Some 80% of the big pieces of plastic had not broken down. There was also some bad news. the Garbage Patch is MUCH larger than previously estimated. Marine pollution researcher Julia Reisser said that “she will have to rethink her old estimate of 250,000 tons on the patch.”

“Very likely the research we are doing here is going to increase the current estimation of the total load of plastics,” she said. “We haven’t weighed the plastic. We found far much more, perhaps an order of magnitude more.”

So far, Slat has raised $2.2 million in crowdfunding through 38,000 donors. The effort is also backed by founder Marc Benioff.

The cleanup effort is slated to begin in 2020.

-Bill at

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