Stiv Wilson

The Fallacy of Cleaning the Gyres of Plastic With a Floating "Ocean Cleanup Array"

by , 07/17/13

The 5 Gyres Institute, Stiv J. Wilson, ocean pollution, water pollution, plastic pollution, 5 gyres, pacific garbage patch, ocean garbage patch, ocean cleanup array, sustainable design, green design, boyan slat

As the policy director of the ocean conservation nonprofit 5Gyres.org, I can tell you that the problem of ocean plastic pollution is massive. In case you didn’t know, an ocean gyre is a rotating current that circulates within one of the world’s oceans – and recent research has found that these massive systems are filled with plastic waste. There are no great estimates (at least scientific) on how much plastic is in the ocean, but I can say from firsthand knowledge (after sailing to four of the world’s five gyres) that it’s so pervasive it confounds the senses. Gyre cleanup has often been floated as a solution in the past, and recently Boyan Slat’s proposed ‘Ocean Cleanup Array’ went viral in a big way. The nineteen-year-old claims that the system can clean a gyre in 5 years with ‘unprecedented efficiency’ and then recycle the trash collected. The problem is that the barriers to gyre cleanup are so massive that the vast majority of the scientific and advocacy community believe it’s a fool’s errand – the ocean is big, the plastic harvested is near worthless, and sea life would be harmed. The solutions starts on land.

Editor’s Note: This piece was written in response to a story published in 2013. As of 2014, Boyan Slat has conducted a feasibility study for the Ocean Cleanup Array and published a 530-page report that addresses criticismcheck it out here.

The 5 Gyres Institute, Stiv J. Wilson, ocean pollution, water pollution, plastic pollution, 5 gyres, pacific garbage patch, ocean garbage patch, ocean cleanup array, sustainable design, green design, boyan slatPhoto by Stiv Wilson/5Gyres.org

If an outlier subset of the movement to end oceanic plastic pollution exists, it would be the proponents of gyre cleanup. These guys pop up now and again (make no mistake, Slat’s idea and drawings are not new), but for some reason his idea got big media attention. No serious scientist or policy advocate believes that microplastic gyre cleanup is a real strategy for ridding micro-plastics from the oceans—not even The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Industry often backs ‘gyre cleanup’ concepts because they give the impression that we can continue to consume more and more and good old human ingenuity will figure out how to solve all the environmental problems. The public, for their part, loves the thought of a quick fix and wants to believe that a ‘boy genius’ can come along and solve a problem that all the old crusty PHDs can’t.

It’s a great story, but it’s just a story. I find debating with gyre cleanup advocates akin to trying to reason with someone who will argue with a signpost and take the wrong way home. Gyre cleanup is a false prophet hailing from La-La land that won’t work – and it’s dangerous and counter productive to a movement trying in earnest stop the flow of plastic into the oceans. Gyre cleanup plays into the hand of industry, but worse, it diverts attention and resources from viable, but unsexy, multi-pronged and critically vetted solutions.

Slat’s project as it stands is in the fairy tale phase, which is where all the other gyre cleanup schemes out there are, too. So far Slat’s is not a ‘design schematic’ nor is it ‘engineered’ nor is there a business plan attached to it—a fact that Slat all of the sudden underscores in an update to the website, saying he’s just conducting a ‘feasibility study,’ and that his intention was never to suggest that it was presently viable. But that certainly is not what his website suggested before the media attention—and this is precisely why it got so much media attention. From the website: “Extract 7,250,000,000KG of plastic from the oceans in just 5 years per gyre, Contribute Now!”

Well, if Slat’s intention is to funnel the money into a feasibility study, maybe I can save him some money. Let’s look at gyre cleanup schemes from a vantage governed not by dreams, passion and media preciousness, but from something a little more effective and a lot more boring—reason.

The 5 Gyres Institute, Stiv J. Wilson, ocean pollution, water pollution, plastic pollution, 5 gyres, pacific garbage patch, ocean garbage patch, ocean cleanup array, sustainable design, green design, boyan slatPhoto by Stiv Wilson/5Gyres.org

The sea is cruel and it’s really really really big

The nonprofit I work for, as part of its mission, takes people other than scientists on expeditions to the gyres. Why? It’s simple; we want regular people, like Slat, to understand the scale of the problem and the vectors that contribute to the difficulty of solving it by being informed by a firsthand vantage. So far, we’ve taken one gyre cleanup advocate across the South Atlantic, from Brazil to South Africa. We had 22 days of storms with seas in excess of 30 feet at times. By the time we got to the other side, some 30+ days later, he’d abandoned his hope of cleaning the gyres once he realized how big a ‘place’ we’re talking about. What I find astonishing is that out of all the gyre cleanup proponents I’ve met, none of them have ever been to the gyres.

The ocean surface is 315 million square kilometers; 70% of the earth’s surface. Plastic isn’t just contained within the borders of the gyres, it’s everywhere in the ocean. Half of it, like Coke bottles and PVC pipe, sinks. What does a garbage patch look like? Imagine the night sky on a cloudless, moonless night. Now replace the ocean surface with space, and the stars with plastic; it’s dispersed and it goes on infinitely. Yes, humans have managed to create a problem on a degree of scale that’s nearly incomprehensible and so overwhelming we’re predisposed to like ideas like Slat’s because it has the appearance of near divine simplicity. Every time a gyre cleanup proponent has shown me a design for addressing the problem, the first thing I ask is, ‘do you have the money to make 20 million of those doo-hickies?’ They look at me with a puzzled look, and I just mutter, ‘The ocean is really, really, really, big.”

But beyond the size of the ocean, the sea is one giant corrosive force. Even on just a month-long sail across The South Atlantic, we tore our sails twice, broke some rigging, and utterly destroyed a wind-powered generator—all due to the force of nature. Any blue water sailor will tell you about how destructive the sea is to anything with moving parts. That’s why sailors say, ‘a boat is a hole you fill with money.’ Heck, outer space is less corrosive to machines than the ocean is.

But let’s look at a practical example. My home state of Oregon has been trying to create North America’s first offshore wave energy farm. The first test buoy that was launched, just about 2.5 miles offshore, sank after just a few months. That buoy had a ‘100 year survivability’ rating, and wasn’t just an idea on an Ipad. That was the result of an incredible amount of engineering and venture capital. The company, Finavera Renewables, has since abandoned their wave energy ambitions. Is it because Finavera lacked vision? No. Whether you like it or not, Finavera, like all for-profit schemes, is governed by profit and loss. What’s interesting is that Finavera actually had a product (energy) that was worth money, and still it didn’t pencil out. Eventually, because energy IS so valuable and wave farms are near shore, the technology will become more viable. Which leads me to my next point.

The 5 Gyres Institute, Stiv J. Wilson, ocean pollution, water pollution, plastic pollution, 5 gyres, pacific garbage patch, ocean garbage patch, ocean cleanup array, sustainable design, green design, boyan slatPhoto by Stiv Wilson/5Gyres.org

The economics of gyre cleanup don’t work – and a few notes on recycling

The two most common types of plastic in the ocean are polyethylene (PE- plastic bags, dispensing bottles) and polypropylene (PP- bottle caps, fishing gear). So, it stands to reason that these types of plastic would be what Slat’s machine would ‘harvest’ to sell to recyclers. Well, if the economic viability of Slat’s ocean cleaning device rests on his assumption that it will produce a product that will be sold in the market, he needs to better understand the market landscape for his product.

Plastics, chemically speaking, are polymer chains of monomer hydrocarbon molecules. Ultraviolet light weakens the polymer chains until they break, which is why you have the confetti-like micro-plastics found in the ocean. The number one barrier to a closed loop, cradle-to-cradle scenario for plastic is that recycling weakens the polymer chains and thus, the structural integrity of what you can recycle them into. Ocean-borne plastics are so brittle you can break them apart with your fingers, and they’re also saturated with toxic chemicals present in seawater. Another issue is bio-fouling. Life adheres to plastic, and for the most part, plastic can only be recycled if it’s clean or cleaned. Another issue is that plastics have to be separated by type, i.e. PP, PE, etc. In an ocean plastic scenario where all these bits are crazy small, this requires spectroscopic analysis that identifies plastic by the frequency of light it reflects. This is very expensive, even in an automated scenario. Another issue is transportation—plastic bags are hardly ever recycled because in most places, it’s more expensive to transport them to a recycler then the recycler will pay for them. So, from the market analysis standpoint in a gyre cleanup business plan, ocean plastics are about the worst possible feedstock for recycling imaginable, putting the product at a severe competitive disadvantage. Put it this way: Hiring people to climb trees in New York City to gather all the plastic bags in their branches would be more efficient and cheaper than ocean harvesting. Wait, do I sound crazy? Or visionary?

Method, recycled plastic, ocean trash, Great Pacific Garbage Patch, ocean pollution, water pollution, plastic pollution, 5 gyres, pacific garbage patch, ocean garbage patch, ocean cleanup array, sustainable design, green design

One company, Envision Plastics, has successfully managed to use ocean plastics, working with a company called Method to create a bottle with 25% post-ocean High Density Polyethylene (HDPE). But the economic viability of the product is the issue. Out of 67 products listed on Method’s website, only one is packaged in this type of bottle and it costs a dollar more than other products of the same volume in other types of recycled bottles. Envision Plastics does not advertise ‘Ocean Plastic’ as a wholesale product available on their website. The fact that Method’s ‘Ocean Plastic’ didn’t take off should be noted in Boyan Slat’s feasibility study. Slat seems at least cognizant of this problem when he says:

“According to current estimations – due to the plan’s unprecedented efficiency—recycling benefits would significantly outweigh the costs of executing the project. Although the quality of the plastic is somewhat lower than ordinary recycled plastic it could for example be mixed with other plastics to produce high-quality products. PR through an Ocean Plastics brand can further increase the plastics’ value, and would create awareness with the consumer.”

First up, there is no “plan” so it’s really difficult to vet its “unprecedented efficiency.” And “quality of plastic somewhat lower?” The word “terrible” is a better description. Though cool and innovative, Envision’s Ocean Plastic hasn’t taken off – and do you remember the massive PR around it just months ago? It’s gone.

Like the size of the ocean, the amount of plastic we consume is an issue of scale. In North America, the annual per capita consumption of plastic is roughly 326 pounds as of 2010. That statistic is up nearly a 100 pounds per capita from 2001. Of course, the plastics industry doesn’t like the idea of us consuming less because it means less plastic sold. They keep saying all we need is ‘more recycling.’ But despite even nominal gains in recycling, the sum total of virgin plastics produced in the world annually is going up, not down, which means the sum total of plastics entering the ocean is going up, too. I’m not anti-recycling; recovery is part of the solution, albeit small.

The problem is that the economics of most recycling are terrible, especially in the case of Polyethylene and Polypropylene. A growing single-use input for a market that has a sustained-use durable goods output means the input is always going to be greater than the output – that is – the supply will always exceed demand. Most plastics are very difficult to recycle not because we lack infrastructure, but because they’re not worth enough in a commodities market to incentivize venture capitalists to invest in more infrastructure to process them. Let’s remember that recycling isn’t the work of little green altruistic elves and fairies, it’s a business.

But even when plastics do get recycled, in the vast majority of cases, recycling only kicks the can down the road one generation by creating a product that can’t or won’t (because of economic constraints) be recycled again. In short, the vast majority of the recycling industry isn’t doing anything to solve marine plastic pollution, and for the most part, recycling is just creating a secondary market for waste. Even if the economics of Slat’s Ocean Cleanup Array didn’t further impede its viability, more plastic would still be entering the ocean than his device would pull out. Placing fees on producers of virgin plastics, and giving breaks to those who use 100% recycled content or are actively working towards it, would help to balance this equation out and would be great news for the ocean.

The 5 Gyres Institute, Stiv J. Wilson, ocean pollution, water pollution, plastic pollution, 5 gyres, pacific garbage patch, ocean garbage patch, ocean cleanup array, sustainable design, green design, boyan slatPhoto by Stiv Wilson/5Gyres.org

What about the science?

In the simplest of terms, anything floating in the ocean tends to be a ‘party barge’ for life. What I’d like to see for Slat’s design is a time-lapse of his structure at sea predicting how fast it would be colonized by sea life—colonization happens very quickly. I can personally attest to this from recovering tsunami debris at sea, just a year after the devastating wave hit Japan. Anywhere you have seawater you’re going to have havoc wreaking barnacles. Anywhere where you have a platform, you’re going to have dead squid and flying fish stranding themselves, which will attract sea birds, and thus, guano. All of this stuff, coupled with salt, makes moving parts seize.

Little sea life attracts big sea life. Big sea life means entanglement issues. And unfortunately, sea life big or small is notorious for not doing what designers assume it will do. Slat’s design depicts massive booms sticking out of the sides in a ‘V’ pattern thus corralling the floating plastic into some mysterious filter that will separate plankton and plastic. First up, life would colonize the booms, weight it down, and create their own current and eddies around it which would affect the ‘flow’ of how the thing is supposed to work. Fish, attracted by the littler life and the protection from larger predators tend to be voracious ‘munchers’ and thus, really destructive. Oh and storms? You can’t imagine the ferocity we’re talking about until you’ve sailed in full gale. The wind itself becomes audible.

The 5 Gyres Institute, Stiv J. Wilson, ocean pollution, water pollution, plastic pollution, 5 gyres, pacific garbage patch, ocean garbage patch, ocean cleanup array, sustainable design, green design, boyan slat

Slat claims that 24 of his devices are all that is needed to cleanup each gyre in 5 years. How massively long are the booms, and how do they stay in a ‘V’ shape that Slat assumes is needed to gather the plastic? Where on earth does the 24 number come from? Slat mentions that these would be anchored to the seabed. That’s great, but it’s not currently possible to anchor anything in 4,000 meters of water (the average depth of the open ocean). The deepest known mooring is 2,000 meters. Even if you could anchor it, one big storm and his device is going to be ripped from its mooring. Ask NOAA about how many data buoys they lose to storms, even in shallow water.

Another technicality is bycatch. Slat suggests that plankton wouldn’t be collected along with the plastic, though he admits more research is needed on this. The definition of plankton is an organism that can’t swim against a current; plankton have no control where they go and the assumption that they’ll somehow avoid the current that is taking the plastic into the processing thinga-ma-jiggy is a bad one. After conducting 50+ surface samples myself, at least half of the material we get from the surface is biomass. Zooplankton is really fragile, and trying to separate it from plastic in most cases is going to damage these critters beyond survivability, especially on an industrial scale. Plan B in Slat’s concept is to centrifuge the critters out—that would rip off their antennae and feeding apparatus. Scientists, when collecting zooplankton, use live catch nets and are very, very careful so as not to damage them. Plankton biologists, needless to say, are skeptical. Though zooplankton certainly isn’t the most charismatic fauna out there (and probably wouldn’t draw the ire of PETA if Slat’s device killed them), let’s remember that all life in the ocean depends on plankton at the base of the food chain. And if one endangered sea turtle was caught up? The fines that Slat would face would bankrupt his project in a second.

Perhaps one of the worst assumptions evident in this design is that the plastic will be on the sea surface. Researchers have shown that plastic suspends in the water column at 100-150 meters due to wave action and sea state. Not only does this mean that Slat’s design wouldn’t capture this plastic, it shows that his estimates of how much plastic is out there aren’t correct and thus, his five year timeframe to clean a gyre becomes even more unrealistic. For more analysis on what the premiere scientists working on the issue think, go here.

Why so bitter?

I absolutely love human creativity, especially when it’s channeled for a greater environmental good. But why I have such an adverse reaction to Slat’s concept is the naiveté with which he proposes it. And sure, maybe I’m a bit jealous that this tale of how solve the problem went viral when so many of my colleagues working on real solutions go unnoticed and uncelebrated by the media. But I also smell an arrogance here—an arrogance that flies in the face of everything we know about the ocean and the problems with recycling. If Slat were just simply floating a design concept, that would be one thing, but that’s not exactly how he portrays it–and all the ipso facto disclaimers working in concert with a fundraising scheme are really troubling. Slat’s facebook page feeds this in its tagline: “The first realistic ocean clean-up concept?” Seriously? Maybe he has the best intentions, but I find this gyre cleanup stuff to be a major distraction from the real solutions to the problem and as such, counter productive. To me, quite frankly, he’s selling snake oil even if he doesn’t know it yet. Remember what William Blake said about good intentions?

The 5 Gyres Institute, Stiv J. Wilson, ocean pollution, water pollution, plastic pollution, 5 gyres, pacific garbage patch, ocean garbage patch, ocean cleanup array, sustainable design, green design, boyan slat

The good news

Here’s something that will blow your mind—to clean the ocean of floating plastic, you don’t need to go out and get it, it will come to you. Yep, that’s right. Oceanographer Curtis Ebbsmeyer, author of, Flotsametrics describes a rarely talked about phenomena that occurs naturally in the ocean called Gyre Memory. Gyre Memory demonstrates that upon each orbit of a gyre, the gyre will spit out about half its contents. These contents will then either enter another current or gyre or wash up on land. As this repeats, it means that eventually, all the plastic in the ocean will be spit – out which is why you find plastic fragments on every beach in the world. Beach cleanup is gyre cleanup.

The solution to this problem isn’t elegant, and there exists no silver bullet. The first step in solving the problem is to personally lower your plastic consumption. The next steps are to get involved in cleanups, get involved in campaigns to eliminate problem products, and demand that companies take responsibility for their products post consumer. There is a lot to be hopeful about, even if the real solutions don’t appear real sexy. But with engagement, en masse, there is light at the end of the sewer pipe. Unfortunately with Slat’s idea, I see only wasted resources and more ocean garbage in the making.

This article was written and submitted to Inhabitat by Stiv J. Wilson, Policy Director, The 5 Gyres Institute

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115 Comments

  1. drgnsprk June 28, 2014 at 12:40 am

    So lets do nothing and hope that the land based industries and consumers will make the difference soon , RIGHT! or maybe you could do more than run tours for a hand full of people and work with some of these thinkers who are trying to do something.

  2. Bruno Domingues June 22, 2014 at 10:46 am

    Inhabitat might want to consider placing this reply on the article, it looks like Stiv’s arguments are mostly speculation since publicly known facts contradict some of his statements.

    I guess Stiv should have done his due diligence before criticizing, he’s clearly not informed about the project that he is criticizing. :)

    The response is here and includes all due references to each fact:

    http://www.theoceancleanup.com/blog/show/item/responding-to-critics.html

  3. WearelegionWearechange June 21, 2014 at 3:41 am

    Stiv Wilson, you are a biased, imbecile who favours profitering over conservation. I don\’t care what position, of any organisation you are in. You can\’t change the system from within, regulated organisations merely exist as a public relations scheme, to protect corporate interests, often printing biased articles; such as this example. Stiv you should be ashamed of yourself, for this nineteen year old engineering has an idea far more powerful than you have spawned, in your entire ignorant life. Solution over profits! Viva La Revolucion!

  4. selby June 20, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    Mr Wilson do you also believe the world is flat?

  5. Daniel Baker June 19, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    Everyone can think of thousands of reasons why something won’t work, or is a stupid idea. But the truth is Mavericks are the ones that lead the world.

    At least this kid actually *Doing* something. These scientists bring to mind a small crowd of people standing around a flat tire and discussing ideas while one person is actually getting the job done with whatever he has *right now*. The oceans aren’t going to wait for ‘the intellectual community’ to get off it’s fat budgeted behinds.

  6. Richard Reiss June 18, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    Does this idea seem credible? It would help to have a few oceanographers weigh in as well. People want to believe in a ‘magic bullet,’ but it makes sense to actually study the issue — for this, and for ‘Solar Freakin’ Roadways’ too — another internet-amplified story of dubious value.

    A contrasting story is that of pluspool.org, also launched online, but where the team really did do their homework, and as a result got support from the top engineering firms in the world. NYC may well have a public pool in the Hudson or East River in a couple of more years.

  7. Pam Ferdinand June 17, 2014 at 11:59 pm

    Slat’s response to this article and other critics can be found here: http://www.theoceancleanup.com/blog/show/item/responding-to-critics.html

  8. Shaun Simmons June 15, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    While I respect the knowledge and viewpoint of a person who has such an intimate relationship with the ocean, and while I also agree that we need to change ourselves if we’re going to stop the problem of ocean pollution, I have a problem with the tone of this message.

    I happen to relate to 19 year old Boyan Slat’s position, as I’m working for a company that is promoting the use of an invasive species, along with it’s management and eventual elimination on selected sites, as *part of* the way we can control and eradicate it. However, while there are lots of people who love the idea of using a widely-available “problem species”, there are those who are also vehemently opposed to it. They feel that by promoting the usefulness of this delicious, nutritious, albeit invasive, fruit my company is actually becoming part of the problem. They can’t see the positive points we try to make because their philosophy is tied up in an “eradication only” mentality.

    Similarly, for you to say that dreaming and planning big in order to tackle a big problem is a “fool’s errand” is the sort of criticism that this young man *doesn’t* need. What he needs is the kind of constructive criticism that helps him to target the problems that need to be overcome, not the kind that makes him feel hopeless in the face of this massive undertaking, and foolish for thinking he could make a difference. There were those who said that sending a man to the moon was impossible, but we all know how that turned out.

    I admire Mr. Slat’s initiative and his passion in taking on the Five Gyers. I think it’s this kind of big thinking that needs to be promoted, but I agree that there are problems that need to be faced realistically. I would hope, Mr. Wilson, that you might see fit to help this young man with your experience, rather than hinder him with negative comments.

  9. J. Nev June 14, 2014 at 11:34 am

    Will this work???

    Floating Seawer Skyscraper Rids The World’s Oceans Of Plastic While Generating Clean Energy

    http://themindunleashed.org/2014/04/floating-seawer-skyscraper-rids-worlds-oceans-plastic-generating-clean-energy.html

  10. Felipe Budinich June 13, 2014 at 10:51 pm

    This article is old, discredited news.

    The kid on the other hand, is already on the prototyping stage:
    https://fund.theoceancleanup.com/

  11. Shannon Talton June 11, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    After reading the rebuttal article I have a great deal of confidence that this young man knows what he’s dealing with. Tons of info in the above article are false. I would not give a dime to the author. He is obviously stuck in “70s tech.

  12. Aaron Kensing June 10, 2014 at 5:21 am
  13. scubarazzi June 10, 2014 at 2:17 am

    I wowed at the amount of comments denigrating this article’s author as a “cyberbully”, or the comments stating that “at least he (Slat) is trying; give him & his dreams a chance”.

    That Slat’s idea is a step in the right direction is definitely praiseworthy; after all, how many 19yo’s are currently attempting to clean up the gyres of plastic refuse? Having said that, if ideas like his, chock full of idealistic goodness yet severely lacking in real world feasibility, are not criticized, it would harm not only the environment he’s trying to protect, but himself as well.

    Slat and other young dreamers like him need to have their efforts recognized and praised, that is true; otherwise, if all forward-thinking visionaries could expect for their efforts are stinging rebukes, then why should they even bother trying anymore? However, if what they are proposing proves unrealistic, they must also be told so immediately. Yes, criticism can be difficult to digest at times, but like the vegetables your mom places on your dinner plate every night, they are a necessary part of life. In short: deal with it.

    For the environment, if the solutions being proposed have been proven as unfeasible even at just the drawing board stage, then it would be best to immediately start over rather than blindly and arrogantly press on. Remember the “great idea” some folks had about used rubber tires back in the ’70s? They said that we could chain these tires together, dump them in the ocean, and voila! Instant artificial reef! Nowadays, those same tires are being treated as environmental disasters, and have in fact caused the destruction of natural reefs while themselves failing to produce even a single viable artificial reef.

    Still think that it’s better to try rather than “do nothing”??

  14. Scubarazzi June 10, 2014 at 1:26 am

    Okay, this is a few months late, but you guys do realize that TheAmericanDream, in a comment he made last November 14 2013, was being sarcastic, right?

  15. LeeTr June 9, 2014 at 8:40 am

    I’m amazed at the amount of commentors on here that concluded from this suggestion of a less starry eyed perspective to the specifics of the Ocean Cleanup Array, that the writer is suggesting to instead “don’t do anything” (that means all of you with the “doing something is better than nothing” gut reaction). This criticism here is in fact saying is that something, a lot of somethings, is already being done, it’s just not as hyped – perhaps you have such shallow knowledge or interest in the matter that to you all those somethings look like a “nothing”. Seems to me what he’s really trying to point out here is that the real problem lies in people’s inability to really take to interventions that are based on long term personal behavior-change, and much rather spend the time getting starry eyed over promises for quick fixes. These defensive reactions on here, that seem to represent a feeling that criticism that points out gaps is an actual threat to a project’s life, indicate how sensitive people are to the idea of actually changing how each one of us lives, in order to change the consequences of how each one of us lives. That would still be a less preferable choice to people next to giving some money or sharing a link to an idealized promise by someone else doing the actual work, and they will passionately defend the choice in the face of any suggestion that the dream wont materialize in quite the same way as it is promised.

    Or in other words – calm the f down. No one is saying they’re shutting down the Ocean Cleanup Array or that you shouldn’t support it. They’re just saying the reality of it isn’t exactly the perfection it promises to be, and you should just keep that in mind – as you should generally, with any new idea that floats your way. Exercise some critical thinking, is all – which is not contradictory to taking action, so stop fearing it so much.

  16. genoms June 9, 2014 at 7:25 am

    My comment on this issue will be actually against many comments badly criticizing the article. And my very first question to those people will be: Are you even reading the article?
    Becuase many of your points are already answered there. So let’s begin:
    “I’m not going to take this article seriously for the simple reason that the photo at the top looks like a political commercial. The author is obviously trying to discredit Mr. Slat for his own motives. No serious scientist would think himself the sole judge of whether or not an idea was a “fail.””

    Yes the photo is a very logical argument to deny the facts/arguments in the article. Next would be “the guy is not good-looking so I don’t believe him”. Anyway if this is the scientist’s opinion that the idea is a fail then it is normal to say so nicely or not so nicely, doesn’t matter. This is what biologists doing to intelligent design supporters and creationists all the time, because this is the fact according to the data. Sometimes nicely sometimes not so nicely.

    “I learned that folks like you have become an essential part of the environmental industrial complex: you get paid to, and derive a lot of notoriety from shooting down any idea that you didn’t come up with, and which is beyond your organization’s imagination, whether for political or economic reasons.”

    Are you seirous?! Did you read the article at all?! I am not going to comment more on this ignorance.

    “Eco-standards and medicine is that we have been told by countless generations what will and what will not work. time and time again we are finding that things we didn’t believe possible are very possible.”

    As a scientist I can easily say that things aren’t possible by themselves but through technology. We have new methods because we have new and better technological advancements.

    “The takeaway: don’t give $$ to that guy, give it to me!!!
    Very poorly written article “littered” with assumptions, claims, false logic, generalizations, and a painful void where there should be facts and ideas- better idea(s), if you want to discredit another person’s idea.”

    Of course! Why not? He is trying to tell us, that their mission is better organized and better-thought. So therefore he is trying to convince us to donate him and not Boyan, which according to him is a waste of money. There is nothing wrong with that. This is called competition and it is even necessary between these institutions.
    If you can give arguments debunking these claims and facts please inform us. Otherwise what you are doing is speculation and it is worthless.
    And again, are you reading the article at all?! He is claiming his ideas are better (and unsexier :D but probably you are looking for a hero, with some emotional sexy campaign which will end up a waste of time and money but you won’t even hear about that after the donation you made, which could be spent on better projects)

    “While I appreciate all the facts and detail provided by the author I believe he shamefully bullied a teenager who clearly has demonstrated a passion for a cleaner environment. I think there were many more constructive paths Stiv may have taken, or even made his point with out some of the harsh verbiage. If your goal Stiv, is change public opinion please do not use your education and experience to change the minds of innovative youths inheriting this problem who express concern. Just you have used Slats “fame” or piggy backed off his media attention to get this article some reader attention you may have considered working with him to change his stance to get your ideas attention as well but I guess you wanted the attention more then the problem solved as well?”

    Well I think that what he is really criticizing is the behaviour of the media and people, who really like to hear about such stories. But at the end, the reality is not so attractive and therefore does not get so much attention. If people would really invest some time and real motivation into such topics, this could lead to real solutions, according to the facts of their time. This can be reached through criticism, where people with real knowledge can inform people like me (my knowledge about the topic is very little compared to Stiv for example). Boyan should not be demotivated because of this article but maybe learn something.

  17. Joseph Foley June 8, 2014 at 8:35 pm

    great article Stiv Wilson Im sorry so many people have had their little bubble of hope burst but I started to suspect that Slats ideas were pie in the sky even before I read this.. I am very concerned about pollution the more so because I have to dispose of a lot of other peoples garbage.If you really want to help don’t make the garbage in the first place or at least try and make as little as possible and that is were we all have to start

  18. dr3w June 8, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    “I can scale Mount Everest in one giant leap!” – Boyan Slat
    “No, getting on top of the mountain takes a lot of preparation and then you have to slowly ascend, step by step.” – Stiv Wilson
    “Stiv is wrong, at least Boyan is trying, and Stiv is an envious meanie for shooting him down like that!” – 90% of commenters.

  19. LadyEden June 8, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    Have you talked to the kid, personally? It’s possible he has some answers for your questions, and it’s also possible he’d appreciate talking to an expert about some possible holes in his theory so he can address them. He also might appreciate talking to an expert that can help him SOLVE some of these problems, rather than simply say, “That’s stupid.” I’m not saying it’s bad to poke holes in a theory–that’s totally necessary. But why not use those holes to find solutions?

  20. Westconsin June 8, 2014 at 10:28 am

    I’m not going to take this article seriously for the simple reason that the photo at the top looks like a political commercial. The author is obviously trying to discredit Mr. Slat for his own motives. No serious scientist would think himself the sole judge of whether or not an idea was a “fail.”

  21. Taylor900 June 8, 2014 at 3:30 am

    I think anything done to help cleanup the ocean is worth it. Obviously, we\’re not going to get every particle even inside of 200 years, but less of it in the ocean is better than what is in there now STAYING and MORE being added in another 200 years…. if humans around then….. I am sure we will be… but … ya know…. things happen…. :)

  22. tillybummie June 8, 2014 at 1:09 am

    I read your response to the project and I learned a lot. Most importantly, I learned that folks like you have become an essential part of the environmental industrial complex: you get paid to, and derive a lot of notoriety from shooting down any idea that you didn’t come up with, and which is beyond your organization’s imagination, whether for political or economic reasons.

    Well, even with all that you have said, I can still imagine this invention having some use. What if this mechanism was installed, not necessarily around one of the gyres, but within any smaller body of water that connects to the oceans. Imagine if this became part of national governments’ campaigns – the gyres would become smaller. That, on top of beach cleanup, would make a significant difference. There is a way to be critical and to ask important questions without being this ugly.

  23. David McDonough June 7, 2014 at 10:47 pm

    I agree, this is the first viable idea to a twenty year old. Small mind of small experience. Like you say anchored to what? And then what make 20-30 thousand of them? Then how to avoid them? As said a lot more to work out. I’m in favor of just land-filling the waste plastic.

  24. Dave Banker June 7, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    One of the greatest reasons that we are not further advanced in science, Eco-standards and medicine is that we have been told by countless generations what will and what will not work. time and time again we are finding that things we didn’t believe possible are very possible.

  25. diamondmask June 7, 2014 at 9:30 pm

    Guess it’s always better and cheaper to do nothing. “Eh, the problem is too big, to expensive to fix, and maybe nature will take care of it anyway given eons.”

    I’m all for using less plastic. I’m also for trying to fix our wrongs. Apparently, money always wins out though,so any idea that doesn’t produce a profit, just won’t work.

  26. count June 7, 2014 at 8:49 pm

    The takeaway: don’t give $$ to that guy, give it to me!!!
    Very poorly written article “littered” with assumptions, claims, false logic, generalizations, and a painful void where there should be facts and ideas- better idea(s), if you want to discredit another person’s idea. Any plan (yes, I said plan – check the definition of the word) starts with an idea and funding for a feasibility study.
    What I don’t get is how disguising a sailing company as an NFP (avoiding taxation) is contributing to the solution. I’m guessing that sailing a rich person to look at trash in the ocean “diverts attention and resources from viable, but unsexy, multi-pronged and critically vetted solutions” (despite not mentioning one) in a much larger way than $80k for a feasibility study….
    Stiv, take your failing trust fund and get a real job – not CEO of your own scam of a NFP.

  27. anneke vrieling June 4, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Slat never denied that prevention of plastic litter should remain priority; he simply acknowledges that no matter how much environmental awareness campaigns etc. we implement, there will always be a, hopefully, minority group of litterers. PLus there’s already a large amount littered out there. So he says, we should do both: prevention and clean-up. I couldn’t agree more and don’t like the suggestions made in this article as if Slat approves the continuing growing usage of plastics everywhere. In fact, in his speech, he shows this clearly when he talks about biscuits in a plastic mould, in plastic wrapping, boxed and sealed with plastic again.. I think we should give him and his ideas a chance. What’s the point in rhetorically saying: ‘it can’t be done’ at anyone who dares to dream and work at their dream.

  28. petef May 18, 2014 at 2:06 am

    I am not an environmentalist by any stretch of the imagination, and feel free to shoot me down I’m sure some of you will after my next comment but here goes. The plastic harvested back from the ocean would be worthless for reprocessing/ recycling. But it is however an extremely viable fuel. Before you start shouting about generating additional green house gases there are a number of land fill to energy systems available from companies like asia power solutions who use technology originally designed for destroying chemical and biological weapons the only by product is electricity and inert carbon powder which can be used as a building material. My idea is simply to fit a bulk freighter with a small power plant and harvesting system the freighter gathers plastic waste to power it’s self and once it’s tanks are full sails to a land power plant where it dumps the.mulched plastic waste and sell the energy produced.from the larger clean burn energy plant onshore. Where the electricity can be sold to the grid. I am under no illusions the profits from this scheme would be marginal at best but we get our oceans cleaned for free which has to be worth something possibly even grant money. It might even be possible to add a deep to shallow water stimulation package to the boat to encourage plankton bloom and further reduce.the carbon foot print of the system.

    As many of you have stated the survivability of an un manned vessel in the open ocean is questionable, bulk freighters have a proven track record of surviving open oceans in fact it is what they are designed for. And generates jobs both.on the vessel and on land

    The problem with recycling plastics is monetizing it there is only so much of a market for crappy garden furniture and trash bins. Electricity I think we can all agree has an established market and clean electricity even more so.

  29. cumerlato March 5, 2014 at 11:52 am

    Stiv, thank you for your great contribution. I think the solution lies on land. Educated people will create specific laws to incentive the recycle process. Educated people will try their best to ensure the success of the complete recycling process. And where are these educated people? They are sitting in schools, they are our children, the future of our planet. We have to invest our efforts on them, only they can change the future of this planet. Our generation has little or nothing to do to combat this problem. What we can do is educate our children, they will save our future. Governments could stop spending money on space research and invest in our children\’s education, training more scientists and creating more incentives for those who recycle, not only those who produce plastic, but for those uses and recycles.

    I am not against the proposals like Ocean Cleanup Array, but this type of project attacks only the consequence of our bad manners and does not solve the problem at its root

  30. John LeGrand February 13, 2014 at 10:50 am

    The real solution is Rubber! Wear them!

  31. Pb February 11, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    NOAA has actually been mooring buoys in up to 6000m of water for over 3 decades. While there are losses due to weather, the large majority of these moorings stay out and have created a global climate buoy that predicts El Nino, monsoons and monitors climate all over the planet.

    http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/tao/global/global.html

    there are alot of problems with this plan, but the logistics of anchoring something to the bottom of the ocean was solved many years ago.

  32. Pamela Kennedy February 10, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    Trying something is better then doing nothing. Even if it only cleans half of the problem it is better for our environment to try.

  33. Steviekw February 9, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    While I appreciate all the facts and detail provided by the author I believe he shamefully bullied a teenager who clearly has demonstrated a passion for a cleaner environment. I think there were many more constructive paths Stiv may have taken, or even made his point with out some of the harsh verbiage. If your goal Stiv, is change public opinion please do not use your education and experience to change the minds of innovative youths inheriting this problem who express concern. Just you have used Slats “fame” or piggy backed off his media attention to get this article some reader attention you may have considered working with him to change his stance to get your ideas attention as well but I guess you wanted the attention more then the problem solved as well?

  34. Lar February 5, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Yes, lets discredit an idea by name calling \”debating with gyre cleanup advocates akin to trying to reason with someone who will argue with a signpost and take the wrong way home. Gyre cleanup is a false prophet hailing from La-La land that won’t work\” such childish verbiage may leads one to believe you have a closed and limited ability to analyze a problem and develop a solution. After reading your snarky article I wish I hadn\’t wasted my time.

  35. Debi Miller February 2, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    Or is it that this is a kid and it wasn’t your idea?

  36. AnyOtherVoice February 2, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    @TheAmericanDream: “If we all just hope really hard then this problem will go away and I can keep on throwing my bottles on the ground with a clear conscience.”

    …oh dear lord.

    As for Stiv, when jealousy is no longer a subset problem but the primary one, I suggest you use your enemy to your advantage. It’s called motivation. There’s no point in the way you deny the feasibility of solving this giant ocean trashcan problem and then lament how “so many of my colleagues [who are] working on real solutions go unnoticed and uncelebrated by the media”. I think all environmentalists out there should take a moment— just one moment— and think: WHAT AM I DOING THIS FOR?

  37. jjjjbae February 1, 2014 at 8:37 am

    So if it can’t make a profit then we shouldn’t try to clean it up??? Yes, the ocean is huge, but we know where TONS of plastic is just floating on the surface. Maybe instead of looking at it we should clean it up. So what if the plastic isn’t useful. So what if it costs money. We know where it is and we have the power and ingenuity to figure out how to get rid of it. Why wouldn’t we?

  38. Eric Chard January 30, 2014 at 9:11 pm

    “Now replace the ocean surface with space, and the stars with plastic;”

    Dude, hire a damn copy editor: you see the issue with this sentence?

  39. WakeUpFromYourAmericanD... December 16, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    @TheAmericanDream — Are you implying that logic and reason are only appropriate when they are convenient? Additionally, the last time I checked, water doesn’t just come in plastic bottles alone.

    While hope is something that is definitely needed, it must be coupled with reason and common sense. To make a statement implying that if we all just hope really hard then the problem will go away makes me directly question whether it is based in common sense. Additionally, to follow up with a statement that, should the problem go away, you can keep on throwing your bottles on the ground with a clear conscience implies that you seem to be questioning your conscience with respect to the issue in the first place.

    Listen to it. Listen to your conscience — if you question it, there must be some reason why. If the reason is that you believe there could be the possibility that there is a problem with the current plastics situation, then you’re already on your way to developing a realistic approach to how it should be considered.

    In the meantime, realize that the planet is not a giant garbage can — there are waste receptacles and recycling bins to put plastic bottles. Littering is for litterbugs, not civilized individuals.

  40. delphic39 November 24, 2013 at 9:30 pm

    The gyres can be ‘cleaned up.’ The trick is to stop them from forming again.

  41. TheAmericanDream November 14, 2013 at 12:17 am

    Stiv,

    Your “logic and reason” are too inconvenient for me. Stop using plastic? How else am I supposed to drink water? LAST TIME I CHECKED, WATER DOESN’T COME IN CANS!

    Also, you are not very nice. This boy is only 19 years old. He can’t even drink legally yet. We should be supporting his groundless ideas with unconscionable optimism to make him feel special rather than peer reviewing his claims. Because that’s all we need, hope. If we all just hope really hard then this problem will go away and I can keep on throwing my bottles on the ground with a clear conscience.

  42. gamgee November 14, 2013 at 12:16 am

    When u have a spinning gyre…cant you put like a big thing in the middle of the current to divert the spinning….? like a massive wall…idk. also, i dont see why it would hurt to at least try this idea.

  43. Eric Chard November 7, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    Thanks for the informative article.

    Obviously, you have a great deal of RW knowledge on this subject. I found your arguments much more compelling than the proposal to Roomba the sea. And I have no problems with your tone.

    And for the one commentor: Lady, we have NOT colonized Mars, so that’s a particularly bad thing to throw out in argument of plausibility.

  44. lindajensen3 November 5, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    To Stiv and the others you work with – Why are you looking at the glass as half empty? Didn\’t you learn from your Mother to look on the positive side? If you did, you would see the positive action coming out of Boylan Slats story going viral – for example, I consider myself well educated, although my education is in the medical field, thus I have not had much time to study the ocean or the effects plastics are having on the ocean. So guess what? Because this article went Viral, and I saw it on Facebook, I am now more aware of what a hazard plastics are – yes, I knew the hazards generally, but I needed a WAKE-UP reminder. I am less likely to use plastics now than before I saw Boylan Slats article – and how many more are there like me? I can only guess, but from the positive publicity he has received, I think there are a lot. So…..something positive has come out of all this, wouldn\’t you say?????? Piggy backing off this viral article by being positive and giving people some good information about how they can help in PREVENTING more damage to the oceans would be a more practical solution here. People don\’t want to hear someone clobbering an idea they find interesting – it is just against human nature. So, I recommend you start posting ways to PREVENT PLASTIC FROM GETTING INTO THE OCEANS, whatever that my be…..give us your idea\’s…….use this boys platform to present you ideas. I guarantee you that most people will not read your entire article like I did. They will only listen to your negativity just so long, then they will tune out…….take down your negative article and present some actual prevention strategies here.

  45. Mike Schroder October 23, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    The objections to this design are based on false assumptions.

    Theses modules can be efficiently mass produced and deployed on a large scale. There is room for competition because there is room for improvement. These crafts can be automated to harvest sunlight, wind and he algae biomass or phytoplankton that they remove from the plastics. Or a hydrolysis chamber built within the craft can be used to process the biomass and plastics into biocrude and syngas. They could drop off their supply of crude to the refineries on major coastlines or fill up boats ans ships at sea. There are many other improvement to be made. Email me if anyone is intersted in making this happen. I dont want money I will just give you more ideas in exchance for equity at 10%.

    Also, the whole hurricance problem is an excuse. What about boats that travel the sea? Are they any less in danger? And dont forget satellite technology and gps which will be used to keep them away from storms. They could even dock themselves. And even Iif it were a problem, most of the plastic is in the pacific garbage patches.these are in relatively calm climates. One of which is between Hawaii and the US which is pretty convenient. Its a free source of oils in abundance. Anyone that doesmt invest in this would be a fool.

  46. palebluedot October 4, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    Great article! This was very sobering and informative, and it serves a very important purpose of humbling those whom think technology is THE solution to our world’s environmental problems.

    This is my first time seeing the inhabitat site, and I wonder if the slogan “design will save the world” is a joke? I think the biggest problem with the environmental movement is that it shies away from the population component of “sustainability.”

    Paul Ehrlich came up with the formula I=PAT (Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology). If any of these factors is missing from the purported solution, it won’t work, because there will be a weak link that over time will cancel out the benefits of the other components.

    So, I guess my question would be, “what kind of design are we talking about? Does it include population control, consumption control, and technology control? If not, then it is just another pie-in-the-sky project wasting our time and perpetuating the myth that “sustainability” can be achieved by using only one or two approaches.

  47. Nathan Richardson September 24, 2013 at 3:01 am

    hahahahah its like HALF of the people or MORE, really, didn’t read all of this article or something. “i don’t agree with your assessment….” then provides no reason what so ever…oh gee…wonder why? maybe because you have no idea what’s going on here. so many of you people need to read before you start commenting. most of your questions or problems with this article were addressed…but you would have known that, had you read the article.

  48. Colin September 21, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    This is just awful. Look at this idea. Microstations to clean up, and the objection is there would be too many to collect from and the weather is unbearable.
    Sounds like a cop out.

    Just how often would these collectors need actual manpower to deal with?
    Drone are common and cheap now. Collectors could deliver their own payload.

  49. Ross Lebold September 16, 2013 at 11:40 am

    I can see how the tone of this article could come across as mean-spirited, but big ideas need big scrutiny, especially when the people behind the ideas are asking for money. I’m glad that people like Boylan are around, and I’m glad he has the support structure to allow him to explore this problem. At the same time, I’m disappointed that no one was there to challenge his ideas before they were made public. I recall designing a farm implement and as I was working on a prototype, my father hit me with a fusillade of questions and critiques. I was annoyed with him for being a hardass, but that was his way of helping me out. Wilson brings up valid points, and Boylan would do well to consider them.

  50. Jamii Hamlin September 16, 2013 at 9:24 am

    Well said Stiv there is no magic wand or silver bullet to the problem! Common sense tells me the problem starts at home & the simplest way to resolve the floating gyres is to reduce ‘planned obsolescence’ of our consumable lifestyle culture.
    Rethink, reduce, reuse, recycle….
    Starting with that shopping bag you just purchased along with your groceries, because you forgot the reusable ones at home again!

  51. Kelley September 15, 2013 at 10:45 pm

    Dear Basically Everyone Who Has Taken Issue with the Author’s “Tone”:

    Kudos to the kid for his engagement and drive to innovate (as Wilson also says in the article) but this ceases to be a matter of encouraging one starry-eyed, precocious dreamer, and acquires rather more gravity than one more project for the self-esteem set, the moment money and real-world influence come into play (which was, oh, right away in this case.) Slat is not only raising money (arguably under false pretenses, whether he realizes it or not) but as Wilson mentions, he is also using powerful media platforms to reinforce the ultimately catastrophic expectation of a “magic bullet” solution to humanity’s pollution problem. That ideological effect is actually far more dangerous than his simultaneous inclination to relieve a few naive (ignorant) environmental optimists of their hard-earned dollars to finance his fool’s errand (again, maybe his intentions are good; that doesn’t actually matter.)

    So… No, I don’t think Wilson’s tone is excessively harsh; it certainly isn’t inappropriate. If Slat’s big-boy pants can carry him through the positive media storm he created for himself, they’d better be sturdy enough to weather some fair and rational scrutiny as well, and if NOT, we don’t need a bunch of concern-trolls trying to stop people from pointing out that the emperor, er, “boy genius” has no clothes.

  52. emecubo September 15, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    Very interesting and thoughtful comment. but let me work on this idea, what if we could arrange a floating device , or platform, to convert( note I say convert not recycle) plastic in fuel.We can disrupt organic waste ( along with the zooplancton adhered to it)in to their main components, that is carbon and hydrogen, we could obtain fuel and energy from it. If we can obtain more fuel that is needed to run the installation and the economy is in the positive side, the situation would change.
    the installation would be placed at the point were the debris is collected by the gyre. I knew there are some small devices that make this conversion but I have no other information about performance of them, but I were told there is a net outcome of fuel.
    rgds

    Mario

  53. Peter Milovich September 11, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    I dislike what I consider the attitude is this article. The kid is 19 and trying to do what you guys call “impossible”. Maybe instead of telling him how stupid he is to dream, your foundation and the ‘experts’ should come along side and work together. Reading this it feels more like jealousy then pointing out problems in his vision. I felt like it was a personal attack the whole time. Pretty sad to see. Even if this kids plan does not work, at least he is trying instead of throwing the towel before.

  54. Nikolai Dragnes September 10, 2013 at 9:10 pm

    Surely what you need are more engineers and lots of engineering solutions working with marine biologists, as of course normal plastic boyes and nets and thin metal poles won’t do the trick in an ocean. Of course it won’t be financially profitable, but maybe there can be some profitable returns and minimizing of costs. Solutions for self cleaning and repair of such vessels, and engineering solutions that can flexibly avoid and retract from the punishment of storms are to be figured out – as well as retrival of the plastic collected has to be… somebody, government, public and volunteer, just need to fund it. That’s not ignoring the source of the plastic in the first place, if anything this has made people more aware of the plastic probelms in the oceans and has hardly made more poluters, while definitly made less poluters.

  55. Chuck Peavey September 10, 2013 at 4:50 am

    Stiv, I was on a Destroyer in the Navy, I do know what the Ocean is like, I’ve experienced greater than 30 degree roles and I still believe a solution can be found to pull plastic out of the ocean.

    I’m wondering, do you understand that the photo degradation of plastic you speak of is not a breakdown of the molecule but a breakdown of the bond between molecules? Eventually, a plastic bottle will break down into millions of plastic molecules and while they’re too small to see, they will still be plastic and they will still be toxins nesting in our food, water and eco-system.

    So let’s take your theory to heart, leave the plastic in the ocean, let it wash up onto our shore and let the SurfRider foundation beach cleanups try to collect this plastic. How is that going to work when the plastic particles are smaller than the sand on the beach? Have you ever tried to pickup cigarette butts?

    Just because Boyan is a kid doesn’t mean he doesn’t have something valuable to add to the conversation. For example his observation that phytoplankton can survive 50 Gs in a centrifuge. Not the entire answer but perhaps a piece of the puzzle.

  56. Chris Chris September 7, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    How to be brief?
    Although I agree with Ben1…’s general pragmatic approach I must swerve off initially and ask the question WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT THE “COMMENT GYRE”? Every webpage nowadays seems clogged with the often acrimonious effluent of comments and counter-comments. Do I really think anybody should rationally spend their time reading my comments about anything from sports to cognitive neuroscience? And yet we do! How to clear up this mess of the modern human Psyche? Could we find some non-virtual environment to feel interactive and relevant? Volunteer our time to local or global charity work? I’ve tried and -well it’s not a perfect world.
    Which brings me back to the Pacific Gyre. I actually originally saw Boyan’s post and found it a preciously smug self promotion centered around a glib concept.
    I was definitely “jealous” (one of the most common accusations here) of someone who seemed to have had such lifestyle cruising around the Greek Islands in privately chartered (or owned) ships working on the Gyre issue which by that time was one of the most publicized and easy to pick environmental problems to study in your college years. So when a full scale reply came I was ok with that. And what you get in the real world is a professional working on the (always) un-sexy part of the job and he has little time for Boyan’s self-advertising intrusion in a field he has little idea about. Tough -but get over it!
    But why I think this conflict was set up in the first place has received very little comment. As my own son is studying engineering I have seen the environment that these Universities of Technology exist in. The “sexy” ones (like my son’s) are constantly striving to push a big Web presence of how forward, entrepreneurial and pioneering their students and classes are. Delft University has gone all out to promote it’s own TED lectures from which Boyan’s TEDxDelft video was taken. Your’e up on stage, you show the adoring audience your holiday photos just for beginners and your off -promoting yourself. But my point is the University has set this up and welcomes self promotion as essential to selling it’s product over that of competing universities. You’re not going to back off and be honest! You’re going to strut around baffled why no-one else in the world has seen this problem or had the genius to epiphonize it’s glamorous CAD simulated solution.
    Lastly I acknowledge the dept I owe to the rare compassionate progressives who (post WW2) became teachers, promoting free thinking people in numbers far greater than in the historical situation they grew up in. We learnt from them and took up our share of the fight against established privilege to put ecology (amongst other things)out of obscurity, front and central as a social issue -and yes also a giant part of just about every college’s program. Kids care about ecology, neuroscience, you-name-it; they can go from freshman to Phd studying it and nobody will set out to prove they are throwing their lives away.
    In fact now it’s a fairly well-supported route to super-stardom!

  57. hamfatima August 27, 2013 at 2:22 am

    ever been on the ocean? in 80 foot waves? this thing would be toast in very short order. This gets reposted every few months apparently… and now the kid is trying to squeeze money out of this idiocy. Folks, the world’s REAL problem could be traced to the USA’s ‘education’ policies. Churning out completely ill equiped folks without basic skills… particularly, applied logic. Someone below posted about weather bouys. These are singular objects… not ATTACHED … get it?? specifically designed by SCIENTISTS for what they do… oh wait … scientists are the cause of all the world’s problems… to the uneducated under 25 year old AmeriKan, at least.

  58. Mary Bigler August 14, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    Maybe they could hook up with NOMAD and develop some kind of platform like NOMADS weather platforms that have lasted 10 years..they are claiming the new NOMAD platforms will last 20 years with proper maintenance, which they have in place. Their floating buoys also last a very long time and maybe there is some way to figure out a similar buoy that will eat plastic..we can always dream of cleaning up the Ocean..Education builds awareness, brings solutions. Think Positive thoughts, so, we CAN clean up MOTHER OCEAN.

  59. shuksan31 July 11, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    Just wanted to clarify my use of the term, “mutant capitalism”. To me, ‘mutant capitalism’ represents a dysfunctional form of capitalism that places profits above all else, including the health and well-being of people and the planet. It doesn’t mean that capitalism can’t work though. If capitalism placed people and planet on equal footing with profit, then the system could work, the planet could become healthier, and society might not be infected by a generation of under-25s who lack the proper amount of respect for older generations.

  60. shuksan31 July 11, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    Woiperdinger wrote: ” Pull your arrogant head out of your ass and join his team if you really want to help. Or sit on your high horse and criticize people have a knack for getting the ball rolling, your choice.”

    Chuckle. Chuckle. If ever there was a superior example of the sense of self-entitlement and lack of respect for elders that plagues the under-25 generation, then this Woiperdinger ‘humdinger’ of a reply is definitely it. So let me get this straight, Woipderdinger is suggesting that a seasoned and wiser scientist join the team of a inexperienced (but keen) teenaged scientist? WTF?? But then again, this is sort of what can be expected from a society that has been dominated by mutant capitalism for the past 40 years or so. Not only does mutant capitalism cause terrible ecological destruction, but it is also quite capable of spawning a generation of young individuals who lack respect for wiser elders. And the reason for this is that mutant capitalism creates various incentives for parents to spend less time with their children (out of economic necessity, or out of the desire to accumulate more material wealth that is unnecessary). And countless studies show that when parents spend less quality time with kids, those kids end up developing various dysfunctions, one of which is the inability to accord wiser and more experienced elders (and particularly those from a scienticific background) as much respect and reverence as they deserve. And unfortunately this leads to generational in-fighting while attempting to resolve many of the environmental problems confronting humanity (and I would place the lion’s share of blame on the self-entitled attitude of the under 25s…..not all of them, but the majority of them).

    For the record, I thought that Stiv Wilson’s article was phenomenal and very insightful. Thank you Stiv!

  61. YankeeAirPirate July 6, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    I am aghast at the number of airhead reactions to a very credible and scientific analysis of a wholly and already proven UNFEASIBLE approach to the global problem of plastics pollution.

    In a very creepy way, the “American Idol” mentality expressed by some here — that a mean old establishment scientist, mostly out of jealousy, should be so rude as to criticize a really cute kid’s pipe dream for saving the planet — is pretty indicative of the macro problem of human existence and interdependence on environmental health at large. Would you airheads be equally upset and incensed if Boyan Slat was a frumpy 60 year-old conservative talk show host (or some other ‘fair game’ despicable target)?

    I found Wilson’s assessments, rationales, scientific credentials and citings to be factually compelling and not at all spitefully presented. Wilson does not imply that he thinks Slat is a snake oil salesman, though he very nicely suggests that that’s precisely what the kid may be dealing with whether or not he realizes it at present. One poster here goes so far as to accuse Wilson of jealousy because Slat’s “marketing effort” is generating more sizzle than Wilson’s less sexy, but abundantly more scientific and practical, approaches. Really? That’s all it’s going to take to solve a very critical problem of global pollution — MARKETING?!

    Press on, Stiv Wilson, and I encourage you to dismiss the screams and chattering of the monkeys in the trees. They may throw some intellectual feces your way, but sometimes that’s the price for being on the un-entertaining right path. It’s not sexy and it might not have much marketing sizzle, but it’s seldom that the truth can compete with Hollywood fantasy pizazz anyway.

    Oh, and here’s another stark bit of mean ol’ science for you “doe-eyed” airheads — Bambi can’t really talk.

  62. Gregory Esq June 13, 2013 at 10:47 am

    Thanx for your well informed and erudite treatment of this important topic. I too hoped it could be done but I now understand the reality of the overwhelming difficulty in cleaning up this mess.

  63. Ben1111111111111 June 12, 2013 at 10:01 am

    Bleeding hearts, it’s a serious issue, and I thoroughly enjoyed having my assumption that the clean-up plan was a good idea torn apart. There’s no point being wrong when something\’s actually important.

  64. Ami Egwu May 19, 2013 at 5:40 am

    Dear Stiv Wilson and 5 Gyres,

    I am a 20 year old girl from London, with a chronically ‘doe-eyed desire’ to save the planet. Being a city girl with no cash and a degree to study for, I have only ever heard of things like this through pictures I see online, and kind friends with experiences they are happy to share with me over a smoothie.

    I assume I am the type of person that people like yourself and Slat are trying to target – the concerned and well-intentioned, but easily distracted and uninformed. And so on behalf of us folk, I have decided to let you know how this article resonated with me.

    I, personally, will now be going out of my way to avoid anything 5 Gyres do. I don’t care how knowledgeable you are, or the extent and scientific depth of your work – this article is tantamount to cyber-bullying, and I am absolutely disgusted by your hostile and negative reaction to what is essentially a 19-year-old boy with a cool science project that went viral.

    You are a group of grown adults, who evidently have the education and experience to do something positive. You could have contacted the boy in question and, instead of trying to pull apart his project as spitefully as you did, worked through the points you raised and explored creative working solutions. He may even have become the newest member of your team.

    Instead, from a personal standpoint you have done nothing but show me that even the people who are supposed to be fighting to save our planet won’t do anything unless it makes them a profit. Oh – and you’ve violently attacked a boy not yet out of education for no reason I can discern other than badly-masked jealousy, on top of that.

    Nothing about the planet’s state boils down to one sole cause or reason, so the reversal effort will not boil down to one solution. Nor will it be credited to one person or group, as you seem to hope it will be. So knocking down one approach because you don’t like it/you’re jealous your work isn’t as popular/it is not currently scientifically plausible (see The Aeroplane, The Submarine, The Rocket Ship) – that is the only true fallacy.

    Oh, sticking “Fail” on the picture of a 19 year old’s beautifully rendered drawing has set the tone of 5 Gyres for me – a group of childish bullies who believe the popularity of a viral campaign or an internet meme is the be all and end all. I truly hope I do not see or hear from your company again.

  65. Wm Zinn May 18, 2013 at 9:11 am

    Although this article was informative, the level of arrogance was beyond belief. This is no better than calling someone, who tries and fails, an idiot. So his goals are quite possibly over-reaching, but you should be grateful that members of the next generations of scientists share your passion for cleaner oceans. Instead, you are bashing an idea before feasibility studies can be completed. As intelligent as you are Mr. Wilson, you are also an asshole. Your tone rings clear as condescending and egotistical. I agree that ocean clean-up isn’t as simple as this young burgeoning scientist proposes, but there is no need for the level of self righteous indignation present in your rebuttal. Another commenter says’ ” no need to argue.” There was no argument here, only a blatant attack. As a person with a deep concern for our natural environment and a background in marketing, I would advise you that “You get more flies with honey than vinegar.” Kudos to the young man for trying, and Boo to you for being a pompous ass.

  66. Susan Pease Banitt May 7, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    I think this article is bitter and egoic. You approach the problem as if the solution should be market driven. That’s ridiculous. It should be a nonprofit joint venture of all nations who have contributed to the problem. If we can colonize Mars, we can clean up our ocean. Swallow your pride and your condescension (yes, to your readers too) and go help this young man with his vision.

  67. lucy houston May 3, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    Although I was impressed by the author’s education and experience, I was turned off by the approach. Here is a kid who is so interested in trying to solve the problem of an ocean full of garbage that he designed an array and posted it on the internet to try and build it, and your response is to call him arrogant and naive?? At least you are honest for admitting that perhaps you were jealous of the attention he received for his unworkable creation.

    Here’s a thought: perhaps you could learn from each other. Why not take the best of what you have to offer – education and experience about the oceans and plastic – and the best of what he has to offer – marketing and social media, with a side of creativity and enthusiasm – and come up with a solution together!

  68. Brian Loma May 2, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    I really enjoyed this article. As an individual with the ideas of both educating people how to reduce plastic content in our lives and cleaning out the oceanic gyres, there is a lot of information that really speaks to me. I really do believe that this battle is 3 front – manufacture, consumption, and disposal. Supporting a concept of ‘solution found’ does not work to the advantage of those agencies that are in a constant effort to educate and improve the status of our planet’s environmental health. Yes, I agree that there is some indignation in the voice of this paper and I also agree that all the attention to this ‘new and visionary’ product would be upsetting when, as Stiv points out, there isn’t even a basic business plan attached to anything about this product.
    What I find most disturbing is how the related posts section is generating two posts about Boyan Slat’s Cleanup Array’s that you discredit in your article. Inhabitat isn’t doing a very good job with their metrics.

  69. alainb1 April 28, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    You couldn\’t have been more patronizing if you said \”Sonny sit down and let the grownups talk\”. Sounds like sour grapes from a frustrated academic who didn\’t get tenure. Feasible or not the Ocean Cleanup Array got my attention and introduced me to a problem I was not fully aware. 80K is a small price to get this price front and center. I\’d say quit your bitching and give the young man a boat ride.

  70. iamjamieq April 28, 2013 at 10:41 am

    This is a fantastic analysis that appears to be based in experience and research to back up all the claims made. I’m very glad that Inhabitat posted it. Which makes me wonder why they’ve kept the other Boyan Slat links up. If they agree with this post enough to put it on their website, then why would they also post the contradictory information as well? It’s like an internal flip flop.

  71. nestflower April 28, 2013 at 3:39 am

    Unlike most commenters, I see Good (and Bad) on both sides of what, on the surface, seems to be an argument. As the daughter of a Research Engineer, I lived with Stiv’s seeming curmudgeondry for many, many years. As the aunt of one of my Dad’s grandsons, I have also seen the exuberance of a youthful brilliant mind beginning to scratch the surface of both “Life” and diffcult scientific ideas. To both I would say this. Don’t waste time and energy sparring with each other. Overcome the inclination to be ruled by Ego and remember that you both want to achieve the same end result. For the sake of our planet, see if you can find a way to work together on an endeavor that needs all the help it can get.

  72. Russell R April 27, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    Thanx for information and your perspective. Yes stopping the source of the pollution should start with name/& shame of those who pollute & dump their waste into the ocean in the first place, more protest are needed and a definite shift in mindset as to the consumerism and non-recycleabled nature of plastic. However how grand the idea is of designing systems to cleanup the mess humans have caused to our oceans – it is also important that whole countries and the best minds in the world are working together to develop systems that can do just that – and the manufacturer\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\’s should not be free of responsibility but in the front of financing these systems to remove the plastic. Make no mistake people dispose of plastic and local govt are made responsible for it, but are paid for by the rate payer (the people or the homeowner) anyway – but the companies and the manufacturers are still the source of the plastic – and this is were central governments all over the world need to be held responsible to ensure that specific laws are made just for the responsibilities of companies to be held environmentally and morally responsible for its cleanup.

  73. Mikael Svensson April 27, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    I appreciate you sharing your knowledge, but I think your tone is way too destructive in this article. You clearly have data to back up what you claim, but the feeling I get just turns my stomach around. Like many other have written here, you should approach the matter in a more delicate and constructive way.

    I agree in your advice to lower plastics consumption and that companies should do what they can to prevent plastic pollution. I think most people agrees to that. I also belive we will get more and more biodegradeble plastics, although I think that everyones mindset has to be “don’t throw garbage in the nature” today and in the future.

    And as for cleaning the beaches, that has to be done too. We made the mess and we should clean it up. But, Im not sure that it will be cheaper than cleaning out the oceans. I like Boyan Slat’s idea. Hes young and he wants to solve it all in one sweep. Thats not a bad mindset. As he gets more and more experience he will surely try to solve the upcoming problems. Maybe he could start more easy and let one ship gather the larger chunks of plastics to see what works and what problems you encounter. And then build it up from there.

    Hopefully we have a future in a few decades where energy is cheap enough and materials are strong enough to withstand the forces of the oceans. Then I think it is time to take out the remaining plastics in the oceans (and on land) – even if it doesnt mean a revenue. Compare it to cleaning the streets in a city, which the citicens pays with tax money. Likewise, the citicens of the world would collectively (according to plastic usage) pay to clean up the globe.

  74. Amy Daniels April 24, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    Very informative and I agree with your assessment of the young man’s idea. I have sailed from San Diego to Hawaii and in just that trip I gained an appreciation for the enormity of our planet. I like your statement that cleaning the beaches is the same as cleaning the gyre. Any way to model where and how much debris will be deposited and when? How long would it take to empty the gyre if no more plastic floated in? Thanks for your article.

  75. f.barbirato April 20, 2013 at 10:19 am

    I was delighted by your analysis Stiv. You certainly made your points clear, not only on the plastic problem, but on so many other relevant issues related to the behaviour of our species.

    So sad though, to see some \”trivial\” comments just stating how pessimistic (and a \”loser\”) you are.

    We (homo sapiens) have a long (and painful for us!) road ahead.

  76. legalegl April 17, 2013 at 10:31 am

    And man will never fly. It has been proved aerodynamically impossible !

  77. pietpirate April 15, 2013 at 9:59 am

    Please… Get over it, excellent example of marketing and presentation of his product. Clearly nobody is interested in you, unfortunate but deal with it.

  78. kerosene3 April 15, 2013 at 6:57 am

    Thank you for this well constructed piece. Its not an easy (nor popular) task to be the negative nancy, the naysayer who shoots down neat ideas.
    The concept raised a stink immediately to me with such HUGE blanket statements and finally with the obviously outrageous claims of 24 units cleaning an ocean in 5 yrs. That would mean some pretty long booms resulting in infinitely impractical structures and impossible to solve engineering challenges. (now some fool is going to call me for using the impossible word).

    You have said put all the common sense points together better than I could have.

    Pointing out false hope is not same as being a pessimist or anti-innovation. Slat is selling a concept that is not really that unique (I have personally scribbled similar autonomous ships) nor in the least feasible. Sucks but its the case.

  79. JaneNewton April 14, 2013 at 5:44 am

    People listen to Reason!
    Here is a man that gives a very well researched, insightful, rational account of why the Boyan proposal is a fantasy.
    No matter how much you want it to be true doesn\’t make it true!
    Thank you Stiv for such a detailed account of a complex problem.
    The funds and support would be far better put towards serious research not chasing the philosopher’s stone.

  80. beachcomber beachcomber April 13, 2013 at 6:59 am

    “The intention is not to annihilate a kid’s dream…” a kid’s dream …. your patronizing, arrogant attitude does nothing to encourage others to come up with innovative solutions to this problem.
    Why haven’t you contacted him and offered to develop his (and other) projects into workable concepts?

    Perhaps a prototype could used in Lake Erie.
    http://inhabitat.com/scientists-discover-a-great-garbage-patch-in-lake-erie/

    Oh yeah .. a kid’s dream … like the kid who just sold his dream to Yahoo for $30m.

  81. cocojames April 13, 2013 at 6:28 am

    Thank you Stiv! this is the best article I’ve ever read on the problem of sea plastic! We need designers to work on this problem but Boyan’s claims are speculation based on speculation and undermine the seriousness of the problem. Incredible claims require incredible evidence!

    Please follow up this article with one about the potential solutions you believe in!

  82. Woiperdinger April 12, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    I am not an expert in the science involved here by any means, but your elitist attitude polarizes people and feeds apathy. What I have read out of your article is that unless I have the time and resources to waste “visiting” a Gyre, I have no right to contribute ideas and that “economic feasibility” is actually an important issue when cleaning up after ourselves. “Economic feasibility” is what put the plastic in the oceans in the first place and that kind of thinking will hold the right ideas back. At the very best, his idea either works or has potential, at the very worst he raises awareness. Pull your arrogant head out of your ass and join his team if you really want to help. Or sit on your high horse and criticize people have a knack for getting the ball rolling, your choice.

  83. Philatonian April 12, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    I also think you’re underestimating innovative spirit. Scientific communities are notorious for butting heads when the idealistic dreamers believe anything conceived can be acheived, and the active working scientists insist that the innovative limits of their area has reached its threshold.

    We can’t figure out how people build pyramids without CAD. Someone can anchor a platform to the ocean floor.

    There are many reasons Slat’s concept won’t happen, but the least of which is that the logistics are impossible. The reason it won’t happen is because the capital required to innovate these new technologies won’t be deemed a fruitful investment until the entire world is in imminet threat by the plastic filled gyres. And by that point we’ll be doomed by a dozen other threats or gone.

    But, as far as his technology is concerned, you’re kind of assuming that anything that hasn’t been done can’t be done. With enough money this concept could be employed. It doesn’t mean it would work or even be remotely helpful, but implementing it is possible.

  84. bobbomax April 12, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    I know! What we need is GMO salmon that will eat all the indigestible bits of plastic, then deliver their load to the hatchery they came from!

  85. The ELobbyist April 12, 2013 at 5:48 am

    You make some excellent points, but the vitriol does yourself, and especially the 5Gyres organisation, a great disservice.

    Could you please give us an article that explains more about the Gyre Memory, which I certainly have never come across before and sounds like it needs further exploration?

    Perhaps the media interest garnered by this could be better utilised by explaining this phenomenon and encouraging others to get involved with beach cleanups and plastic reduction, rather than putting the boot into an idea that at least shows a spirited attempt to solve the issue.

  86. akornblatt April 11, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    sorry, your posting system here busted, this is the comment I meant to post:

    I really feel that it is a false construct to think that because there is a desire to clean up the mess, that this detracts from the need and desire to take away the root problem. Here is a senario why that makes no sense to me. You have a pipe in your house that burst water. The root cause of the problem is the busted pipe (consumption and plastic pollution) and the mess is the water (plastic particles in our ocean that will NEVER biodegrade).

    You are basically saying that we need to fix the pipe and ignore the giant puddle of water rotting our floors. I don\’t think that anyone out there who can use logic will want to clean up the puddle but keep the busted pipe.

    Instead of just nay-saying the scientific, exploratory process to clean up our mess, we should be experimenting and learning how to solve this problem, so that when we change our consumption habits, there will still be an ocean to enjoy. Just my 2 cents.

  87. eadams April 11, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    One might point out that this kid’s conceptual design for solving an enormous problem has generated more media coverage than your own organization has, and that’s okay. Might there be value in acknowledging that every news story about gyre plastic brings the problem more and more to the public eye?

  88. Isaac Sharrow April 11, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    I honestly don\\\’t care about the economic feasibility of such a project, and i think these are all problems that can be gotten around. Yes affixing something like this to the ocean floor is not feasible or logical in this situation. But the point is that he seems to be making his project public and is actively looking to apply a solution to a problem that will soon affect us more agriculturally then currently apparent.

    here are some suggestions:
    1: Make each \\\”Array\\\” a self-propelling boat that unfolds and folds the arms during movement.
    2: Make parts that make prolonged contact with the high PH level water easily replaceable.
    3: generate electricity using self-cleaning solar panels and wave motion.
    4. Use a separate boat as a docking and maintenance bay.
    5. Don\\\’t focus on using collected plastics as the only means of funding the project, focus more on funding from government and public contributions.

  89. Philatonian April 11, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    You\’re article is dead-on, but I think the problem many are having is that it\’s reactionary, and a lengthy and seemingly hostile reaction at that.

    The environmental community already struggles with an elitist and insular reputation without crushing one of the few proposals that your average \”reduce, reuse, recycle\” environmentalist actually understands.

    The internet makes it easy for anyone with an idea – realistic, crazy, or awful – to make money. Whatever Slat makes is neither here nor there. The worst that can happen is he fails and his followers move on to the next environmental meme the internet offers. Chances are their attentions are already fixated on something else.

    Still, he undoubtedly exposed a few eager listeners to an issue they didn\’t know exists. Hopefully when they go looking for more information, they\’re able to read between the cynicism and see the potential (albeit lengthy) solutions.

  90. John Spevacek April 11, 2013 at 10:12 am

    Stiv,

    I loved 95% of the article. Is this a sign of the apocalypse?
    http://www.rheothing.com/2013/04/cleaning-up-5-gyres.html

    John

  91. Stiv April 10, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Well, If you see it pick it up– It\\\’s not personal. But I can\\\’t listen to Ted talks about people anchoring concepts to the ocean floor when it\\\’s not even possible at the depth your talking about. I proved SEVERAL links in the piece resources for a \\\’so called feasibility study\\\’ including direct access to Scripps where scientists there picked this idea apart from existing data \\\’or feasibility studies\\\’ that already exist. And I disagree with your assessment of how the site reads— Slat\\\’s site has been saying \\\’remove x from the oceans, contribute now\\\’ for months. Contributing NOW doesn\\\’t remove any trash from the oceans– that\\\’s not honest. I\\\’m sorry if I think gyre cleanup isn\\\’t feasible– but I\\\’ve come to that conclusion from at sea experience and the opinion of the scientific community. There are so many bad assumptions and miscalculations presented as fact in Slat\\\’s Ted talk. For example– if you divide the amount Slat suggests the plastic harvested is worth by the weight he says he\\\’ll remove, it comes out to $.03/pound or $.068/kilo. Even if it was clean, sorted plastic those numbers are cost prohibitive to transport it across a river, let alone go get into the ocean.

  92. IfYouSeeItPickItUp April 9, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    Way to misrepresent a person, Mr. Wilson.

    FOR THE RECORD: the addition of the funding links and copy on theoceancleanup.com were added ONLY at the initiation of the Indiegogo campaign. Which, was initiated due to a public outcry of support and desire to fund the project. Before that, it difficult to even find social media links etc., let alone anyway to donate, let alone to a specifically identified objective – i.e. feasibility study. You can go to The Ocean Cleanup’s Facebook page and see comments to this effect posted prior to the creation of the Indiegogo funding campaign. You will also find the testament of personal friends and acquaintances (in real life) who assert his genuine good intentions and lack of profit seeking motivation.

    No one doubts you knowledgeability on the subject of plastic pollution in our planet’s oceans, seeing as how you’re the policy director for a non-profit in the industry. IN FACT, your non-profit’s got a good sized “PLEASE DONATE” button on it’s homepage.

    So, what exactly is your intention writing this right now? From the sounds of things, it’s personal, which is funny because you have not indicated that you KNOW Boyan Slat at all. Rather you make assumptions not only about his concept but about him personally. You also claim there has been a feasibility study done as per Slat’s concept, but provide no sources. As it stands, that is a groundless claim and adds nothing to the discussion.

    No one is detracting form beach clean up let alone dismissing it’s significance as an essential solution to marine debris pollution. In Slat’s TED talk he openly admits the solution must be addressed on land as well. And personally, I don’t see what the problem is with people willingly funding a project far enough to see what happens. For goodness sake, people spend their money thoughtlessly enough on meaningless garbage. Let them fund the guy’s project! If it fails then it fails. Oh well. If it succeeds, then that’s fucking amazing!

    The problem of plastic pollution both by sea and by land is massive enough the cause cannot afford the divisive rantings of an intelligent individual who’s working on solving the same issue! This macro-cause needs as much support and long-shot, hair brained, grassroots supported ideas as possible! I mean COME ON!

  93. 5 Gyres April 9, 2013 at 11:49 am

    The reactions to my piece seem at once positive and at the same time negative. The intention is not to annihilate a kid’s dream– my comment is that it’s necessary to travel to a gyre if you’re planning on cleaning up one. My biggest issue is the capitalization on the media coverage to raise 80k on Indiegogo for a feasibility study that has already been done by scientists. It doesn’t matter what anyone’s age is– putting something forward like this means it’s going to invite scrutiny and there are so many issues with how Slat interprets data. But for anyone to think that my article or opinion is going to stop him from moving forward is ridiculous. He’s already raised half the money he needs to move forward. But so much here doesn’t add up– for instance, the Ted talk claims that plastic he harvests would be worth 500 million dollars– if you divide the money by the weight he’s talking about it comes out to $.03 per pound, roughly and that’s not accounting for the cost to build the 24 cleanup arrays. That in and of itself makes sending a ship to collect the harvest (by several degrees) cost prohibitive even disregarding that there won’t be a market for the plastic that would theoretically be taken out. As the piece clearly states, I find gyre cleanup a distraction away from the work being done already. And no one is sitting around armchair criticizing–no we’re out in the world everyday working on source reduction, campaigns, and education and have shown metric successes along the way in stopping the flow of plastic into the ocean and cleaning it up when it washes up.

  94. Philatonian April 9, 2013 at 10:01 am

    Slat’s idea was conceptual and the media attention not his fault. If your article acknowleged that I think your point would have been better received.

    Most people outside of the insular Inhabitat-reading world don’t know what a gyre is, and even less have the resources to see one. The fact that you’re astonished an 18 year old has never been to a gyre to study says a lot about your unrealistic point of reference.

    Slat’s idea might be about as realistic as a floating city or a flying car, but it serves the same purpose by bringing people outside your world into the discussion.

    All you’re doing in this lengthy rant full of ten cent words is annihilating an idealistic kid for his effort and alienating anyone who doesn’t have the thousands of dollars and months of idle time it takes to visit a gyre.

  95. archonic April 9, 2013 at 8:55 am

    I’m glad to finally see a scientifically and logically sound article on this site.

  96. notoplastic April 9, 2013 at 6:12 am

    Wow, Stiv J Wilson, I was getting all ready to argue with you, but I ended up in total agreement. Its sad now to wonder about Boyan Slat’s nature. Is he a brilliant but naïve dreamer or a youth too clever for his own good, who could delude a lot of people?
    I became passionate about doing something about sea plastic after watching an Australian science program called Catalyst which explained what is happening in our seas. I try and visit the beach regularly to clean up plastic. I have often considered I am wasting my time because the problem is so massive, but it turns out I could be helping after all. So thankful for your enlightening article. Marea. Perth, WA p.s. I started a facebook page called ‘No to Plastic’ late last year, so will post your message there too.

  97. Wimpy April 9, 2013 at 1:16 am

    And what do you DO to make this world a better place, this is a 19 year old boy who is at least TRYING to do something about the problem, instead of writing negative stuff about others behind his laptop.
    You are a nasty, crumpy , jalouse man!

  98. User1 April 8, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    If you truly would like to get your message out there I would suggest a short version of this great article or a video short explaining your wonderful point. Thank you.

  99. UpGyres April 8, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    A comprehensive and highly critical stance on The Ocean Cleanup’s “Ocean Cleanup Array”, and gyres cleanup in general, by Stiv J. Wilson of 5 Gyres via Inhabitat. As far as Upcycle the Gyres Society is concerned, many people and many organizations working on finding ways to clean up plastic debris while advocating for the prevention additional marine waste makes sense. As stated by 5Gyres, the problem is immense and complicated. Upgyres embraces “la-la land” citizenship if it means we get to keep looking for solutions to the problem of marine plastic debris. Accepting the gyres cleanup issue as too riddled with problems to approach is not an option.

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