By Ian Crossland 05/28/2015
There are five gigantic patches of swirling plastic throughout the Earth's oceans, known as gyres.
Because of ocean currents, a great majority of the plastic that ends up in the oceans finds its way into these garbage patches, poisoning marine life and ending up in the food supply of the planet. Toxic chemicals like PCBs and DDTs are absorbed by the plastic and cause diseases like cancer, malformation and impaired reproductive ability.
That the plastic lands in these rotating patches is a double edged sword. It is horrible, yes, and causes a multitude of problems, but it also localizes the pollutants and gives us a place to start when cleaning up. It's estimated that 1/3rd of the world's oceanic plastic pollution is within the great Pacific Garbage Patch (number 01 on the map above).
One young man saw the problem early in his life. Boyan Slat, at the age of 18, gave a riveting Ted Talk unveiling his plan to clean the pollution using passive flotation devices and the ocean's own current. After all, "why move through the oceans, if the oceans can move through you?" In 2014, at the age of 19, he realized the plan was actually feasible, and now it's going into effect off the coast of Japan.
The currents pull the sea life under the floatation devices but the lighter-than-water plastics float into the barriers. What would have taken humanity 70,000 years to clean with boats and nets can be cleaned, instead, in decades.
It's estimated that a single, 100km cleanup array will clean 42% of the ocean's plastic in 10 years. The first array will be deployed in 2016 and technology is underway to recycle the plastic into biofuel.