A Dutch entrepreneur has come up with an invention he says will allow him to start cleaning up a massive floating garbage patch in the Pacific two years ahead of schedule.
"To catch the plastic, act like plastic," Boyan Slat said Thursday in Utrecht.
Slat's Ocean Cleanup foundation plans to scoop up most of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — a gargantuan floating island of plastic between the U.S. states of Hawaii and California.
When he discovered that his original plan of attaching large barriers to the sea floor to trap the plastic would not work, Stal devised a different plan.
The barriers will instead be weighed down by floating anchors and travel in the same sea currents as the garbage, trapping it.
Slat says the new plan will allow him to start collecting the trash within a year — two years ahead of schedule.
The young entrepreneur's system is making waves among America's super-rich philanthropists. Last month, his foundation announced it had raised $21.7 million in donations since November, clearing the way for large-scale trials at sea. Among donors were Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.
Nancy Wallace, director of the Marine Debris Program at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said much of the garbage in the world's oceans is found throughout the water column — at different depths. That would likely put some of it out of reach of Slat's barriers.
However she applauded The Ocean Cleanup for bringing the issue to a broad public.
"The more people are aware of it, the more they will be concerned about it,'' Wallace said. "My hope is that the next step is to say `what can I do to stop it?' and that's where prevention comes in.''
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not just an ugly reminder of a throwaway human society — it is also a danger to sea life and humans. Tiny bits of plastic can find their way into the food chain.
Ocean Cleanup says 8 million tons of plastic wind up in the seas every year. One piece of plastic can take decades to break down.
Slat on Thursday brought out an intact plastic crate fished from the Pacific last year. The date 1977 was stamped on it.
Some information for this report from AP.