Boyan Slat has launched the Ocean Cleanup Foundation to develop safe methods of cleaning the billions of tons of plastic that humans have dumped into the world's oceans, where they are poisoning the food chain. His solution involves arrays of booms that would direct small plastic particles into robotic collection platforms. The arrays would be anchored along the radius of the ocean gyres where the massive plastic garbage patches form. The arrays are powered by ocean currents and the booms allow sea life to safely avoiding being trapped. Even better, researchers estimate the system could collect as much 7.2 billion kg of plastic (around a third of what's out there) in a form that could be profitably recycled. From the projects website:
Is it the perfect solution? No. We will be able to retrieve billions of kilograms of plastic from the oceans, but that still won't be 100% of what's in the world's oceans. We’ll need a combination of extraction from the oceans and prevention on land in order to succeed. One of the problems with preventive work is that there isn’t any imagery of these ‘garbage patches’, because the debris is dispersed over millions of square kilometres. By placing our arrays however, it will accumulate along the booms, making it suddenly possible to actually visualise the oceanic garbage patches. We need to stress the importance of recycling, and reducing our consumption of plastic packaging. Furthermore, by developing systems that will intercept plastic before it reaches the sea, we hope to further reduce the impact of plastic on the oceans.
For more see the Ocean Cleanup Project FAQ, see the Wikipedia article on Marine Debris, and for other robotic solutions for cleaning up the plastic, see Resources relevant to sampling and removal of plastic from oceans. Read on to see Boyan Slat's TEDxDelft talk: How the oceans can clean themselves.