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Ocean Cleanup Project Finally Collects Plastic From Great Pacific Garbage Patch


From time to time on this program, we've checked in with Boyan Slat. He's the Dutch engineer and environmentalist who's been working on a contraption to clean the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. That's the floating debris field in the Pacific where 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic have collected. Well, after many, many setbacks, Boyan Slat's Ocean Cleanup project has had some success.


BOYAN SLAT: All right. So thank you all for joining us.

MARTIN: This week, Slat and his team presented a press conference to an online audience and a small group of journalists gathered at the group's headquarters in Rotterdam.


SLAT: I am very proud to share with you that we're now catching plastics.


SLAT: Yes. There's our only two fans in the room. That's great.

MARTIN: It is great, but surely not the reaction that Slat expected when he first dreamed up his plan to clean the ocean. Here's Slat explaining his original concept the first time we spoke in 2016.


SLAT: I envisioned an extremely long network of floating barriers. They're like curtains floating in the ocean. And because it's in a V shape, the plastic gets pushed towards the center. And that's the spot where we can efficiently extract it from the seawater and store it before shipping it to land for recycling.

MARTIN: Well, as we know, Slat's idea didn't quite work as planned.


SLAT: The path of progress wasn't exactly a straight line. And we began to refer to these issues that we had along the way as unscheduled learning opportunities, and we had quite a few.

MARTIN: First, as Slat explained at the press conference, his device floated along with the ocean's current at the same speed as the debris it was meant to capture.


SLAT: Causing the system to actually not collect any plastics.

MARTIN: Then, late last year, part of the structure itself fell apart.


SLAT: Forcing us to tow the system back to port.

MARTIN: After six more months of tinkering, the modified prototype was redeployed to the floating garbage patch. And at this week's press briefing, Slat was at long last able to share pictures of what the system has captured - an enormous abandoned fishing net, hardhats, office chairs, plastic forks.


SLAT: And, you know, car tire - no idea how that ended up there. But if you're missing a wheel, let us know.

MARTIN: Boyan Slat acknowledges that this batch of trash is only a small first step. But by 2025, the Ocean Cleanup project hopes to cut the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in half. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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