EDIT: Thank you all for the great questions! Signing off now, but let's do another one sometime next year.

My name is Boyan Slat, and I am the founder and CEO at The Ocean Cleanup. The Ocean Cleanup is a non-profit organization developing and scaling technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic. We plan to do this by cleaning up the legacy plastic - the plastic already floating in the ocean - and by “closing the tap” through river plastic interception. The goal is to put ourselves out of business once the oceans are clean.

See a summary of The Ocean Cleanup and what we do here: https://youtu.be/8HQEd_IX6A8

Throughout the years of developing ocean technology, we continually improved cleanup design, working towards a fleet of systems capable of eradicating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This October, with System 002, also known as “Jenny,” we successfully achieved proof of technology after repeatedly harvesting plastic, from tiny debris fragments to huge ghost nets. From nine test extractions, we collected a total of 28,659 kilograms (63,182 pounds) of plastic from the ocean. Learn more about System 002 proof of technology and what it means here: https://youtu.be/-Tt88hdVCpo

The crew is now back in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to start the cleanup.

I will start answering your questions at 11.00 EST / 17.00 CET.

Ask me anything!

Proof: https://imgur.com/a/p8LjxMQ

Comments: 959 • Responses: 25  • Date: 

Craigg75637 karma

Are you worried that since you've created this incredible cleanup technology that the polluters will just dump more since they know someone else will clean up their mess? Do you have people/groups in place to prevent the plastic and garbage from getting into the rivers? Hey its people like you who give me hope that humanity is worth saving. Thank you for all you do and I include you in my charitable contributions. Good luck and try not to burn out on this.

BoyanSlat1374 karma

Appreciate your message! I'm not worried about it for a few reasons.
Firstly, the 'moral hazard' argument has been used to oppose innovations for centuries. Safety belts, maskwearing and even fire departments were opposed on the grounds that it would give people an excuse to engage in risky or bad behavior. It never actually has a measurable effect, though.

In fact, we see the exact opposite happen everywhere we work. Communities around the rivers we operate get educated about the issue & even start to help clean the river banks themselves.

What's more, we actively work together with local partners to let the presence of the Interceptor be a catalyst for other (upstream) changes. The UNDP is doing this in the case of the Dominican Republic now, for example, and already introduced waste collection for some of the poor comunities around the rivers.

deedee25252522 karma

Where does the garbage go that you collect?

BoyanSlat1168 karma

In the case of the plastic from the GPGP, we feed it into our recycling supply chain - we've developed processes through wihch 95% of the plastic is being recycled! On rivers, we are much more dependent on locally available infrastructure. At the very least, we want to guarantee the material can never end up in the environment again, so we extensively audit the waste management partners we work with.

millennialmoney_484 karma

Do we know if the bottom of the ocean is just as bad?

BoyanSlat999 karma

Yeah a fraction of the plastic doesn't float and ends up on the seabed (mostly near river mouths and coastlines). However, the impact this has is ambiguous at best. In fact, a study published earlier this year found 'biodiversity hotspots' around plastic dumps on the seabed: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/347983571_Large_plastic_debris_dumps_new_biodiversity_hot_spots_emerging_on_the_deep-Sea_floor

This, in combination with the inevitable env impact of trawling the seabed makes us say: let's focus on the floating fraction, which is known to be very harmful.

TheBrowserOfReddit90 karma

When the floating plastic has been cleaned and the dumping of plastic into the ocean isn't as significant, are you going to try to clean the seabed?

CanYouFeelItNow551 karma

Lets focus on one thing at a time now here. There is 1.6 million square kilometers of plastics floating.

BoyanSlat999 karma

Exactly. If you're doing everything, you'll be successful in nothing.

Jabinor347 karma

Will the TeamSeas money be spent solely on interceptors to reach the 15m lbs goal? Or will a part of it flow into the pacific garbage patch project too?

How many interceptors are in production/scheduled?

BoyanSlat564 karma

Yeah, TeamSeas will solely go to funding Interceptors. We expect to be in 8 rivers before the end of 2021 and about 25 at the end of 2022, if we include the smaller rivers we're prepping for now. Steep ramp-up curve ahead!

the-real-guanabanana276 karma

Is the plastic you fetch from the oceaan worth anything?

I've understood that recycling is grossly over-simplified and is actually really difficult to do (due to the different kinds of plastic which are difficult to separate from one another)

BoyanSlat1150 karma

The problem is economics. As long as making new plastic is cheaper or cost-competitive with recycling existing plastic, only a small fraction of the world's plastic will be recycled. Contrast this with aluminium. It's very energy-intensive to turn bauxite ore into usable aluminium, resulting in recycling rates of >90%. So on the long term, either plastic prices must go up, or recycling must become cheaper.

On the short term, we resolve this by adding value to the recycled material by selling it as "The Ocean Cleanup plastic" rather than 'normal' plastic. By monetizing the story attached to the material, we hope to make our recycling ops viable.

erudaru210 karma

Hi Boyan! Did you have to get permissions from any governments to do this, and if so, did they cooperate nicely or was there any pushback? Thanks for doing this.

BoyanSlat649 karma

Yeah any activity on the high seas requires a flag state. While many states in the IMO support it, it's really the Dutch goverment whose patronage is enabling us to do this. Thank you the Netherlands!

aniket_ixi_150 karma

Hello Boyan. How long will it take to clean all of the Pacific Garbage Patch?

BoyanSlat316 karma

Depends on the nr of systems we deploy :)
If we deploy about 10, we can do 50% in 5 years and 90% before 2040.
However, I'd like us to go a bit faster....

Hacksaures138 karma

Hi Boyan. Seeing your project & idea launched me into a world of sustainability and immersed me into researching how we can care not just take care of, but fix our planet.

As someone who works to drive sustainability efforts through marketing campaigns, I was incredibly impressed by not only the press your project got, but your follow-through on it. It is rare to see these projects come to fruition, much less have a workable, realistic goal and strive towards it.

Congratulations on your official launch!

Finally, my question - how would you advise other sustainability initiatives gain as much traction as yours did, and how did you carry that momentum to success?

BoyanSlat165 karma

Thanks! Hard to say exactly without having ran countless counterfactual scenarios, but what I often hear from others is how they like the fact that we roll up our sleeves instead of pointing at problems & that we openly share all our ups and downs instead of filtering out all the things that didn't go well.

TheDatabaseAvenger119 karma

Do you worry that recycling plastic gives the producers of plastic an free ticket to keep producing plastic?

Obviously it's a good thing to scoop what's in the sea out, so congrats on your work and for ignoring the haters!

BoyanSlat218 karma

I don't see how it should. The more plastic is recycled, the less new plastic has to be produced. I don't think plastic is going away - it provides a lot of valuable functions for humanity. Key is that plastic doesn't enter the environment. If the whole world (esp middle income coutries) introduce good infrastructure & we make plastic more valuable, we can get rid of our Interceptors :)

VandyBoys32114 karma

What’s the craziest thing you’ve picked up at sea?

BoyanSlat231 karma

A vietnam war drinking bottle (from 1968)

LowHealth64974 karma

Any thoughts on COP26? Does our ratio of policy makers to engineers/scientists meet the demand of actions needed for a brighter future?

Thanks again. Really appreciate your work. We need more role models on this area.

BoyanSlat206 karma

Game theory dictates that it's very hard to solve issues where individual interests are not aligned with collective interests. If clean tech becomes cheaper than dirty tech, these problems would solve themselves. Thus, I think we can use a lot more engineers to work on cheap, clean tech

the_dugong49 karma

Do you know mr. trash wheel? Is there a significant difference between his contraption and the interceptors?

BoyanSlat103 karma

Big respect for the people behind mr trash wheel, who've been one of the pioneers in this space. Ultimately the function is the same (catching trash in waterways). I guess the main difference is that we designed the Interceptor for larger rivers and higher plastic flux, as our focus is the top 1000 polluting rivers.

adminsruinedreddit40 karma


BoyanSlat116 karma

We're still analysing the data & collecting more data at the moment, but anecdotal observations indicate it's very minimal, measured in the range of grams, not tonnes.

As you say, some catch of floating passive drifters is inevitable. However, based on the life cycle and distribution of these organisms (they tend to wash up on shores and are impacted by storms in large numbers on a continuous basis), significant impacts on a population level are not expected.
A lot is still unknown though on the cleanup's impacts on the neuston (negative or positive), and thus we continue to collect data and do more modelling before we can make hard conclusions.

TheWastelandWizard39 karma

Have you focused any research into alternative nets? From what I was reading a massive amount of the trash is from the huge drag nets that various fisher fleets use and then dump into the ocean. Overfishing and then dumping trash is for sure not helping you guys.

BoyanSlat44 karma

We haven't (yet), but it'd great if someone could look into that.

russcore32 karma

Do you have any timeline on when the garbage patch will be eliminated?

BoyanSlat84 karma

We're trying to get System 003, the blueprint of the fleet, out next summer. If that goes well, it'll take maybe 2-3 years to build up the full fleet. Then, the patch will be close to gone somewhere between 2030 or 2040, depending on how many systems you deploy.

Lyuseefur23 karma

Is it only plastic that you find? Or do you find other items such as aluminum cans, clothing and other artifacts from civilization?

BoyanSlat48 karma

The GPGP is 99% plastic.Rare exceptions are old glass Japanese fishing buoys and some semi-metal things like frides.

James6676620 karma

What do you say to the haters who tell you that there is just too much garbage and you will never make a difference by cleaning it up?

BoyanSlat60 karma

I'd say: do the math. There's 100m kg of plastic in the GPGP. Jenny collects between 1000 and 2500kg per day. If you then consider the 3x span of System 003, optimized ops and a few other optimizations, you just need ~10 full scale systems to get rid of the GPGP.

babaganate3 karma

I know you've said that sales of the sunglasses are temporary/proof of concept only - but are there plans to continue selling them or similar products to continue funding the project?

BoyanSlat9 karma

Once they're sold out we're not planning on making any more sunglasses. We are planning to do other things in the future (through others), but what exactly and with whom is not decided yet.

Fortembras882 karma

Do you have an estimate as to how many pounds of waste your team has removed from bodies of water? I love what you and your team is accomplishing. Keep it up!!

BoyanSlat8 karma

About 2.5m lbs now, but should ramp up soon

Michael956212 karma

Can't remember if it was you or someone else, but there was a stat that it's only like 3-4 rivers in the world that are responsible for the vast majority of Ocean waste and that just controlling the output there would solve a lot of the continuing problem while solutions like yours will solve the existing problem.

Do you partner with anybody to try and stop the problem at the source?

I love your idea, but, I think you feel the same way, you'd want this NFP to go out of business one day because there's nothing left to clean up. I'm sure that's just a pipe dream though.

BoyanSlat14 karma

There was a study by Christian Schmidt and others in 2017 that showed 10 rivers do ~90% of emissions. This year we published a revised global river model (in collaboration with Christian) that paints a very different picture: 1000 rivers do ~80%. We're working on addressing these with our Interceptor programme.

See: https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/7/18/eaaz5803/tab-article-info

Nearby-Awareness14152 karma

I know step 1 is to stop the pollution of plastic into the oceans but what if this doesn’t happen? You plan to retire the ocean cleanup after you meet your mission to clean 90% of the worlds oceans plastic but what if it just continues to accumulate?

BoyanSlat7 karma

Aim is to stop the sources before we retire the systems in the patches.

Kian0082 karma

Can you provide a date range as to when you expect 003 will be deployed?

BoyanSlat2 karma

Summer 2022

abhishek_c961 karma

Do you have plans to get the Interceptor/System 002 to India? What are your thoughts about the recent foam/lather situation in one of India’s ‘sacred’ rivers, The Yamuna?

BoyanSlat2 karma

Currently doing exploration for a first Interceptor project in India, yes.