It’s been a while since I checked in on The Ocean Cleanup, the ambitious not-for-profit that is working on solutions to remove plastic from the oceans. They’ve made some very big strides, and the world’s biggest cleanup has begun in earnest. Their prototype machines are at work on the seas, but they’re also moving towards solving the upstream problem of how plastic gets there in the first place.
In this short documentary, founder Boyan Slat travels the route of the Rio Motagua in Guatemala, showing how plastics from the city enter the river and end up in the sea, and finally on beaches. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the plastic problem presented as starkly as this does in ten minutes.
The Ocean Cleanup address river pollution with a variety of solutions, including a simple fence that catches floating plastic while letting water run through. There’s also the interceptor – a net connected to a waste extraction barge. Eventually, they plan to place these on the 1,000 rivers that are the biggest sources of ocean plastics, and turn off the flow of waste.
Of course, it can be turned off higher up than that. Ultimately the world needs to use less plastic. Citizens and their governments need to choke it off at the start, and then we ought to make the fossil fuel companies pay to clean up the mess. But in the meantime, engineered solutions like the ones Ocean Cleanup are developing have a role in holding back the tide of plastic pollution.