How the oceans can clean themselves: Boyan Slat at TEDxDelft

How the oceans can clean themselves: Boyan Slat at TEDxDelft

Translator: Ondrej Moravcik
Reviewer: Tatjana Jevdjic Once there was a Stone Age,
a Bronze Age and now we are in the middle
of the Plastic Age. Because every year we produce
about 300,000,000 tons of plastic and fraction of that enters rivers,
water ways and eventually the oceans. If you want to eat a biscuit nowadays we have to buy a biscuit
within a plastic wrapper, within a plastic tray,
within a cardboard box, within a plastic foil,
within a plastic bag. It’s not hazardous nuclear waste —
it’s a biscuit. And this is me. I love diving just taking you through
my holiday slides here. This is at the pristine Azores Islands
and this is how their beaches look. Covered with plastic fragments. Due to sun and waves over the years the garbage breaks down
into ever smaller pieces, but remains plastic. And, well interestingly, you don’t see
a lot of red particles in here because those look like food to birds more than any other color. So this is the result. And well, the debris primarily collects
at these 5 rotating currents called the gyres, where it doesn’t only
directly kills sea life, but due to the absorption of PCBs and DDTs,
also poisons the food chain. A food chain that includes us — humans. And while diving in Greece I came across more plastic bags than fish and astounded by the depressing sights my Scottish dive buddy turned to me and said, “A lot of jellyfish is here, dear.
Seen about a thousand.” There were no jellyfish. I won’t talk about
environmental issues in general. I think the common response is,
well that’s a long way off. That’s for our children to worry about. So hello, here I am. Why don’t we just clean it up? There are a multiple reasons why current plastic pollution researchers
believe we should focus on prevention, for example through education,
rather than attempting a cleanup operation. Because we would need to deal
with 5 colossal areas — each moving around. Plastic sizes ranging from these massive ghost nets
to molecules — bycatches and emissions. Furthermore we would need to get
all the plastic back to land. It would need to be financially realistic and in fact the total amount of plastic
within the gyres [is] unknown. But about a year ago, when I was
on my way to the hairdresser’s and I must admit I don’t go there often
but I had this little epiphany. I saw even old people throwing
rubbish in the water and I thought, well some people
will just never learn, will they? We’ll need the combination of both roads and we’ll need them soon. So then I simply used this list of concerns as challenges, and in fact a week later
as a school assignment, I had a chance to spend a lot of time on a subject of choice together
with a friend of mine. And this gave me the perfect opportunity to do new and fundamental research
regarding plastic pollution. I then went on a holiday to Greece
taking this manta trawl with me, which is the common device
for sampling plastic, and so I had to leave home all my clothes due to low cost airlines weight limit policies. Well, the trawl we built, however,
is 15 times finer than the regular one.
And what we discovered was that the count of those minute particles
is in fact 40 times higher than the larger particles.
So we have to take these small plastics out, but then we wouldn’t want to take
the important plankton out as well. Luckily these could simply be separated
using centrifugal forces. However, nobody knew how much G forces
common zoo-plankton could survive. So we took the trawl out again,
and we didn’t have a boat, so and we tested it, and in fact they can survive
over 50 Gs, which is more than enough for successful separation. And then in order to know up to which depth
the ocean surface should be cleaned, we designed and built something
that I call the multilevel trawl. We basically stuck ten trawls
on top of each other. Here you can see us testing that
on the North Sea, I thought it was a great day —
I was the only one who didn’t get sick but then the so perfectly working trawl
broke and of course we didn’t quit there,
because I believe you can’t clean up something you don’t know the size of. I’ve heard the estimations ranging
from several hundred thousand tons all the way to a hundred million tons. I knew we really need a better estimate
— some scientific data. So then I simply contacted
some professors from the universities Delft, Utrecht and Hawaii —
who then actually helped us in determining how much plastic there is
in the top layers of the gyres. The result — a whopping 7.25 million tons
of extractable plastic in 2020. That’s the weight of 1,000 Eiffel towers
floating in the gyres. Now, researcher and effect discoverer
of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Charles Moore estimates it would take
79,000 years to remediate that. However, I believe the Great Pacific
Garbage Patch can completely clean itself in just 5 years. And that is a difference of 78,995 years. Well, of course, this is the conventional idea
of extracting litter, so you have a vessel and a net
fishing for plastic. Of course multiple vessels could be used
to cover a larger area, but by spanning booms between
those vessels, suddenly a much larger area
would be covered, because the essence is not to
catch the debris, but divert it. Because there is no mesh size,
we can even get out the smallest particles, and since all organisms can simply move
under the booms, we’ll be able to eliminate
bycatches by 99.98%. But, if we want to do something different shouldn’t we also have to think differently. For example then: the absorption of PCBs
by plastic is not such a bad thing, it’s a good thing. Get all the plastic out and simultaneously
remove tons and tons of persistent organic pollutants
from the marine environment. But how would we minimize environmental,
financial and transportation cost then? Let’s use our enemy
to our advantage, OK? The oceanic currents moving around
is not an obstacle — it’s a solution. Why move through the oceans
if the oceans can move through you? By fixing the “ships” to the seabed
and letting the rotating currents do their work — vast amounts of funds,
manpower and emissions will be saved. The platforms will, of course, be
completely self-supportive receiving their energy from sun,
currents and waves. And inspired by my diving at the Azores,
It now actually seems that the best shape for these platforms
is that of a Manta Ray, by letting its wings sway
like a real manta, we can assure contact of the inlet
with the surface even in the roughest weather. Well, imagine a zigzag array of just 24
of these platforms cleaning an entire ocean. Let’s make a comparison, OK? These are the beaches of Hong Kong,
earlier this year. The largest plastic spill in history.
And this is their source, just 6 containers. How much could we get out? Over 55 of these containers per day. Not only is plastic directly responsible
for over a billion USD in vessel damages a year, no, the awesome surprise for me was that if we sell the plastics retrieved from the 5 gyres
we’d make over $500,000,000 and this is in fact more than
the plan would cost to execute. In other words — it’s profitable. But I believe that the key thing is that only if we realize change is more important
than money, money will come. And yes, it will be one of the largest environmental
rescue operations yet, but we created this mess. Heck, we even invented this new material first
before we made this mess, so please don’t tell me
we can’t clean this up together. Thank you very much. (Applause)

About the Author: Michael Flood


  1. He is inspiring! We live in a world today, where the smart money doesn't care about environmental issues, unless we give them a reason. and that's an economic reason; money talks

  2. By far, this is the most important TED talk of our generation… Global warming is only a symptom.. our reliant for plastics & our extreme consumerism is the primary cause of irresponsible & excessive manufacturing of plastics.. just google how plastics are made.

  3. Inhuman idiots still dont know that with money we cant buy or purchase pure Air, Water and Soil. Humanity is the only means to save and sustain our Mother Planet Earth.

  4. What am I missing?  These stationary platforms somehow scoop the plastics from a giant rotating mass.  Then what?  How are they transported back to land to be sold for the profitability he spoke of?  BTW dumping millions of tons of any  resource into the existing economies will not come without a price.  You might sell your ocean plastic for 500 million but what happens to the current industry that produces plastic for manufacturing?   How do you intend to anchor these things considering the massive depths at some locations in the ocean?  Lots of trumpeting about the problem with lots of vague pie in the sky solutions.

  5. Poor guy needs some water. That cottonmouth has got him by the balls. Having said that, I think this is fascinating and I think he’s going to make a life changing invention.

  6. 2 problems: once you get the plastic to make contact with, and accumulate in, these super wide nets, how do you haul it in? Also, how do you prevent sea life from getting caught up in these giant nets? We're talking everything from minnows to whales here.

  7. So this video was uploaded more than 6 years ago. Has any of this happened, or even been started as a pilot project? Haven't heard anything about it. Boyan is now at least in his mid-20s. What's he doing now? He said this could be done in 5 years. Did he not get enough funding, or what?

  8. Brilliant kid. But what a boring audience – hardly reacting to what he’s saying. Don’t they get what he’s trying to tell them?

  9. and when you sell that plastic how do you know that the person that bought it wont use it and throw it out in to the ocean again ? and if this goes around than its not cleaning and if he doesn't throw it in the ocean he can throw it in other waters and u cant clean those. so instead of focusing on selling the plastic and becoming rich how about you focus on saving the world .

  10. why isn't the world hyping Boyan Slat instead of this sixteen year old girl who refuses to go to school until someone solves the climate change problem rather than going to school and learn how to solve the problem by herself.

  11. Boyan is probably a nice kid, but his hair brain idea will be as effective as sweeping the Sahara during a dust storm, it ain't going to work!! Better idea, keep the f**** plastic out of the oceans in the first place

  12. Seats of theatres ,stadium and schools* (*developing countries) and benches in parks should be made from recycled plastics from that region leading to waste management at root level.

  13. Boyan Slat,
    Thank you for your good contribution
    & good solution,
    you gaved to the world.
    May the good LORD bless & keep you?.

  14. "we did this"

    In regards to polluting the ocean? no we didnt do this. we do seemingly have to be the ones to clean it up though. Africa, india, and east asia are the biggest polluters of the ocean. They did it.

  15. Still seems like a dream to me. Wish he stated his sources or explained the research of where he’s getting his numbers.

  16. Yep, yet another teen telling us how to behave. Tell the Chinese and Indians to stop polluting, that will divide the pollution by 1/100 th.

  17. He has been successfully doing it for years now while that girl Greta is just going all around the world talking and doing nothing to change it…yet everyone knows greta and rarly anyone mentions Boyan? Why's that?

  18. I’m glad this guy knows his facts and actually does something, unlike Greta Thunberg. So sad the media is more interested in a raging 16 year old girl who is no scientist instead of a reasonable person like Boyan Slat.

  19. You guys don't get it its not it's not guy vs Greta they are both working towards the same goal, just using different methods.

  20. It's sad how someone like this guy that actually created a solution to the problem doesn't get any attention. Instead a 16 year old Swedish girl that doesn't have any benefits and lacks critical thinking gets all the praise. Besides protesting, what actual benefits either than ‘listen to the science’ has she done about the problem?


    If we want to give attention to people like Slat, we need to spread the word.
    Share it everywhere.

  21. Who could actually help fix the environment?
    An angry Swedish girl with no life and no facts, OR:
    An actual genius from the Netherlands.

  22. I think part of the expected success will be the fact that environmental costs are incerasing and increasing, so that plastic recycling turned to be a saving VS buying and producing and dumping, especially for cities dislocated along rivers.

    I think they runa pivot, clearning the ocean is still too costly, so they will focus on rivers, and make deals with countries with severepollution problems and lack of tech infrastrcutre to implement environmental policies => south east asia.

    Same idea was unfortunately not economically feasible years ago.

    Unfortunately, the economic context is still priority over any environmental action, that is why a private company was able to step in NOW (and not just 10 years ago) VS governments.

    Keep in mind the business enablers are always the same people with increadible concentrated wealth. (Thiel gang).

    But he's good and he's playing his cards, surfing the millenials / generation-z storytelling "young-smart-leader" that yield visibility.

    I don't like much the last part, because there are a lot that will sell lies to gain visibility and wealth (like it happened with crypto), but still the goal is good, and so It is real good to see a new kind of perspective.

  23. Boyan Slav is at an all time high on Google Trends and getting recognition after Greta Thunberg pulled off her stunt of shouting and providing solution that would lead to economic crisis

  24. I have finished watching this video completely.


    I am a Taiwanese who cares about the global affairs.


    And, sadly, most of my fellow Taiwanese don't really care about the world.


    Hopefully Taiwan can become increasingly globally-aware and globally-competitive.


    God bless Taiwan.


  25. Este es mejor que yo el hacé lo realiza y descontamina de plástico no solo se queja como Greta (falsa)

  26. I read criticisms on him and I see him as the Elon Musk of cleaning the oceans. Way to go kid! This is just one person, if someone else has ideas on how to reduce the use of plastics and prevent them from getting into the oceasn, then do it. I propose beating those who toss their junk in rivers, which make its way to the ocean.

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