Ten miles from the Dutch coast, near the top of a concrete high-rise in downtown Delft, is a palatial glass-walled office better suited to Silicon Valley than a 13th-century city. The building is home to the Ocean Cleanup, a foundation created in 2013 that is hoping to deploy a giant 62-mile-wide filtration device in the Pacific Ocean, the initial step in an effort to rid the seas of plastic.
22 year old CEO Boyan Slat is a new breed of environmentalist: young, crowdfunded, and tired of waiting around for government solutions. Still, he’s less a traditional ocean conservationist than a natural engineer. When he was 12, he set a Guinness World Record for the most water rockets launched simultaneously: 213.
Slat’s inner environmentalist didn’t come alive until he was 16, when he began scuba diving on a trip to Greece. Expecting to see an array of sea creatures, he instead saw a slew of plastic trash. The experience was life changing. The news was grim. About nine million tons of plastic waste makes its way into the oceans each year—by 2050, plastic will outweigh fish.
As Slat’s obsession grew, he gravitated to the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vast area between Hawaii and the North American continent, where it has been estimated that 170,000 tons of plastic rubbish swirl in the currents.