7/31/2017

These ocean plastic collectors might end up collecting more Silicon Valley money than trash


When Boyan Slat was 16, he went diving in Greece, and was shocked to see more plastic bags than fish. Seven years later, he’s raised more than $30 million to get rid of ocean plastic. Two-thirds of donations in the last few months came from Silicon Valley — including Peter Thiel, who granted Slat his prize for entrepreneurial college dropouts. What started as a high school science project is now a multimillion-dollar effort to launch what Slat promises will be “the largest cleanup in history,” as early as next year. But some scientists think it’s a fool’s errand that won’t come close to solving the problem.

Slat’s company, The Ocean Cleanup, wants to launch a fleet of floating trash collectors that will clean up to 50 percent of the great Pacific garbage patch in five years. That’s an area between Hawaii and California where plastic debris accumulates due to wind and ocean currents. But do we really need giant trash collectors in the open ocean? The science we have so far suggests the time and money could be better spent investing elsewhere, like in waste management or recycling, experts say.

“Cleaning up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is, in my view, not a very clever way to address this problem,” says marine biologist Jan van Franeker of Wageningen Marine Research in the Netherlands. “It’s such a waste of energy.”

Nonetheless, investors have bought into the idea of a plastic-collecting flotilla. With the help of a viral TEDx Talk, Slat raised $2.2 million in crowdfunding from 40 countries, he says. Having spun that boost into even larger financial commitments from Silicon Valley, he knows exactly what his audience there wants. “It’s using technology to make the world a better place, which they all say they want to do,” Slat tells The Verge. “It’s a very exciting adventure.”....more