Incredible Humans

Has this 23-year-old found the solution to the world’s ocean plastic problem?

*six-two 35 under 35 changemaker of 2018 - water category

Boyan Slat, founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup is making waves (quite literally), in developing advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic. This is a guy who has dedicated his young adult life to protecting our planets largest ecosystem, dropping out of his Aerospace Engineering study at TU Delft in 2013 to start The Ocean Cleanup.

5 years on, and Boyan’s vision sure has come a long way…

Every year, millions of tons of plastic enter the ocean and breakdown into micro plastics which sea life often mistake for food. This is one of the biggest environmental issues of our time, impacting more than 600 marine species. And it’s not just sea life it’s having an impact on – plastic pollution also effects tourism, fisheries and businesses with an estimated yearly financial damage of 13 billion USD.

Most pertinently, toxic pollutants are now a part of our own food chain, creating a knock-on effect of health complications for us humans.

Previous solutions for cleaning the oceans of plastic have historically been based around using vessels which produce high carbon emissions – something one young inventor from the Netherlands didn’t see logic in. Instead, aged just 19 at the time, Boyan Slat first shared his ocean clean up ideas to the world in a generation defining TED X talk which has since been watched more than 2.6 million times:

The hype soon began, and 6 months later Boyan quit university to found The Ocean Cleanup, working unpaid with volunteers who shared his vision until outside investment began trickling in, slowly at first but then gaining momentum (the current figure, as a result of Crowdfunding, currently stands at over £31.5 million).

The idea was relatively simple – use the ocean’s currents to collect plastic waste. By suspending a large sea anchor in a deep, slow moving water layer, Boyan’s team can slow down the system enough so that the plastic moves faster than the cleanup system. This causes the plastic to accumulate against the cleanup system.

"I went into this thinking that we created this problem, so why can’t we solve it as well?" - Boyan Slat

Nearly 5 years on and now with a team of nearly 70 behind him (most older than him), Boyan’s vision is about to become a full scale reality. The Ocean Cleanup is due to launch its first full-scale operational system into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by mid-2018, with anticipated results that will undeniably turn the tide on the ocean plastic issue. If all goes to plan, in fact, the technology should be able to collect more than half the plastic stuck in the largest of the ocean vortexes – the North Pacific Gyre, home to the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’, an area of floating rubbish between Japan and the west coast of America that some say is twice the size of France – after just five years in operation. The plastic captured will then be brought back to the mainland for recycling and sold to B2C companies, with the revenue gained from this reinvested into the clean-up initiative.

Boyan’s innovative approach, determination and dedication to this initiative has led him to become the youngest-ever recipient of the UN’s highest environmental accolade; Champions of the Earth.



And the acknowledgements of his hard work just keep on coming. In 2015, HM King Harald of Norway awarded Boyan the maritime Industry’s Young Entrepreneur Award. Foreign Policy included Boyan in their 2015 list of prominent thought leaders, Forbes included him in their 2016 30 under 30 edition. In 2017, Elsevier named him Dutchman of the Year, Reader’s Digest chose him as the European of the Year and he was given the Thor Heyerdahl Award for maritime innovation. Oh, and let’s not forget to mention that The Ocean Cleanup was chosen by TIME Magazine as one of the Best Inventions of 2015.

Photo by De Telegraaf

A post shared by Boyan Slat (@boyanslat) on

Bearing all this in mind, is it really any wonder why our 35 under 35 water category judge, Seth Maxwell, nominated Boyan as one of our changemakers for 2018?

Said SethI am nominating Boyan because of his commitment to environmental protection, as he tackles one of our world’s greatest environmental threats: plastic waste in our oceans. Boyan is the epitome of a “Water Champion”, as he’s dedicated his young adult life to protecting our planets largest ecosystem. Boyan demonstrates drive and ambition, and carries himself in a manner that’s both exemplary and admirable for young people across the planet. He’s inspired thousands and created a successful organization from the ground up.

To learn more about the six-two 35 under 35 changemakers of 2018 initiative, and to see who else made our list, head here.

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