Boyan Slat has made it his mission to remove plastic from the oceans. His organization, The Ocean Cleanup, has successfully started to clean the pollution that has been circling in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
But millions more tons of plastic enter the oceans every year, almost all of it flowing from rivers.
Just 10 rivers are responsible for around 90% of all that plastic, according to a 2017 study from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research.
“So if we focus on the worst rivers, we believe we can really have the fastest and most cost-effective way to close the tap and prevent more plastic from reaching the oceans in the first place,” Slat told CNN.
The Ocean Cleanup is deploying floating trash collectors called “Interceptors.” These solar-powered, autonomous systems use the rivers’ currents to guide the trash onto a conveyor belts that carry the waste to awaiting bins.
The first interceptor went to work in Jakarta, Indonesia, to pull plastic from a waterway called the Cengkareng drain.
A second interceptor is collecting trash flowing down the Klang river in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Living alongside a river of plastic
On the other side of the world, another Interceptor recently started removing river pollution near the mouth of the Rio Ozama in the Dominican Republic. The modern trash-collecting catamaran is a peculiar but welcome sight to 73-year-old local fisherman Luis Peguero.
“Because the river is polluted, the fish die. Every year there are less fish,” Peguero explained.
When Peguero is lucky enough to reel in a catch, it might not be safe for his family to eat.
You find stuff in the fish, especially the catfish. Trash, bottle lids, even a shoe,” Peguero said. “The fish can’t survive this. Always in the morning, there are dead fish floating around.”
The Ocean Cleanup is working with the local governments and communities to help retrieve the plastic the Interceptors collect.
“By stopping plastic in rivers, we hope to not only address the big global plastic pollution issue, but also really help make life better for the people that live near these problematic rivers,” said Slat.
The Ocean Cleanup’s goal is to tackle the thousand most polluted rivers within 5 years. Slat told CNN that Interceptors will soon head to Vietnam, Thailand, Jamaica and Los Angeles County in the United States.
“We are getting out tons of plastic every single day,” Slat said.
“We accept that we won’t deliver magic in one go. But we’re doing this, step by step.”