CLEANING UP TRASH ISLANDS
In October 2021, 27-year-old inventor-entrepreneur Boyan Slat and his team at The Ocean Cleanup collected 9,000 kilograms (roughly 20,000 pounds) of plastic pollution from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch on their first voyage. Their innovative cleanup system is carbon-neutral, capable of collecting particles as small as one millimeter (0.04 inches) in diameter, and poses no threat to ocean wildlife.
Slat has spent much of the past decade designing and testing systems for removing waterborne litter, focusing primarily on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). Ocean garbage patches are massive ‘islands’ of trash floating on or just below the surface of the water. These islands are usually found where various ocean currents intersect with each other. Current intersections create large areas of slowly swirling water that can trap plastic and other floating debris from around the world. The world’s largest trash island is the GPGP between California and Hawai’i and is largely made of tiny pieces of microplastic, which are extremely difficult to clean up. Slat has launched numerous testing operations in the Pacific Ocean, gaining fame in 2019 for being the first to remove and recycle a boatload of plastic pollution from the GPGP. Since then, he and his team of engineers have improved their technology and made further strides in their mission.
Slat’s nonprofit organization, The Ocean Cleanup, titled their latest net apparatus ‘System 002,’ nicknamed Jenny. Jenny is a long U-shaped net 3 meters tall (around 10 feet) pulled behind two boats, one boat on each end of the U. Plastic trash that floats within 3 meters of the surface will get scooped along the net until it reaches the collection zone at the very back. Once the collection zone is full, the crew pulls it on deck, sorts their catch, and takes all the trash to shore for recycling. Jenny is carefully designed to pose no threat to wildlife: the boats move slowly, the net is shallow and open-bottomed, and cameras alert the crew of any nearby creatures who don’t swim away.
The team uses computer modeling to predict how ocean currents will shift a garbage patch and then they set course for the most dense concentration of trash. Slat predicts that 10 Jennies could clean up the GPGP in five years.
The Ocean Cleanup’s main goal is to collect 90% of floating ocean plastic from around the world by the year 2040, which would take about 50 Jennies. They are steadily moving toward increasing the scale of their ocean cleanups as well as deploying river cleanups around the world. On the home page of TheOceanCleanup.com they boast, “We plan to put ourselves out of business – once we have completed this project, our work is done.” Sources: Good News Network, TheOceanCleanup.com
Jeremiah Thoronka, a young student from Sierra Leone, developed a renewable zero-emissions energy generator system able to power 150 homes and 15 schools using only the energy of passing cars and pedestrians’ feet. The device uses no battery, very minimal infrastructure, and does not rely on changeable weather patterns.
From his childhood in a slum outside Freetown, capital of Sierra Leone, Thoronka recalled, “I have first-hand experience of growing up without energy or electricity. Around 18:00 [6pm], the entire neighbourhood would be in darkness.” After receiving a prestigious scholarship at age 10, Thoronka “was moving between two worlds. There was electricity in abundance at school.” Seeing the environmental and personal health issues caused by relying on wood stoves or kerosene-powered lamps and generators, Thoronka fostered a passion for addressing energy poverty in the area.
While studying at Rwanda’s African Leadership University at age 17, Thoronka launched a technology startup company called Optim Energy (not to be confused with American utility Optim Energy LLC). The company’s mission is to deliver renewable, clean power to local homes by harnessing the energy from everyday objects in motion, known as kinetic energy transfer. “I wanted to develop a more sustainable energy system, educate people about energy efficiency and stop their overuse of natural resources,” he reported.
So he drew on a process called piezoelectricity and developed a kinetic energy system that takes pressure, heat, and motion (which all naturally occur during walking or driving) to produce an electric charge with zero emissions. When placed under the pavement on a busy road or sidewalk, the vibrations from vehicle traffic and passersby will generate power without people even realizing it. The pilot program in Thoronka’s hometown region successfully provided free electricity to over 10,000 people, almost all students; the 150 homes and 15 schools connected to the system were incredibly receptive to the option, glad to switch from burning wood or kerosene or using the unreliable national power grid.
Thoronka, now age 20 and studying at University of Kigali in Rwanda, reported numerous obvious benefits from changing power sources. He saw improvements in children’s health and education now that homes were brighter and smoke-free. Street lighting has improved pedestrian safety as well as local commerce. And deforestation has fallen since fewer families are collecting firewood to heat their homes.
Thoronka has received numerous international accolades and funding awards for his innovation and thought leadership. His mission continues through community education efforts, as well as branching into the health sector to provide energy to hospitals and vaccine storage facilities.
Sources: BBC, Good News Network