It’s a problem that’s impossible to ignore – our enormous issue with plastic pollution, the huge amounts of plastic waste ending up in our rivers and seas that eventually break down into microplastics. And a recent study has shown that the whole situation is much worse than we thought, with 40 billion new plastic particles entering our oceans from just 2015 to 2016. It’s thought that there are already 5 trillion plastic particles in the sea. And plastic waste and the resulting plastic particles don’t just have a negative impact on the animals and plants that live underwater. Research has shown that billions of people around the world are drinking tap water that is contaminated with miniscule plastic particles.
And unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’re getting a handle on the problem any time soon. Instead, more and more plastic keeps ending up in our oceans. Sure, there are different initiatives and projects that have been set up to tackle the problem, like Ocean Phoenix and SeaVax for example, Boyan Slat’s Ocean Cleanup and the Seabin. But faced with the enormity of the problem and the millions of tons of new waste that ends up in our waters every year, unfortunately it seems like – excuse the pun – a drop in the ocean.
Yvan Bourgnon, a well-known Swiss adventurer and round-the-world sailor, has come up with a more radical approach – a huge plastic-litter-picking boat. His quadrimaran (meaning it has four hulls) “Manta”, at 70 metres long and 49 metres wide, is the biggest boat ever of its kind. Inside the ship’s hull there is enough space for 600 cubic metres of waste to be collected and sorted, meaning the boat is able to pick up around 200 tons of plastic waste before having to return to port to unload. The boat will mostly sail through areas with high levels of plastic waste, picking it out of the water while it can still be recycled, and before it sinks to the bottom of the ocean or disintegrates into smaller pieces.
Tackling Microplastics With Sails, Wind and Sun
In order to keep the boat’s ecological footprint as small as possible, the quadrimaran is fitted with special DynaRigg sails and electric engines. The electricity needed to power the craft and sort the waste comes from renewable sources – solar and wind power. Travelling at slow speeds and fitted out with a sonar system and a specially-designed plastic-collecting mechanism (inspired by the mouths of manta rays) the boat is designed so that only plastic waste is removed from the water without any harm being done to fish or other marine creatures.
On a round-the-world sailing trip from 2013 to 2015, Bourgnon experienced the growing waste problem first hand, and was inspired to set up “Sea Cleaners“. The “Manta” was designed as part of this project, and supported by a successful crowdfunding campaign. Just a few weeks ago he presented his quadrimaran at the International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva.
The boat hasn’t been built yet. Its construction is to be financed by private donors and is set to cost around 30 million euro. It’s aimed to be finished by 2022, when it will begin its mission out at sea. But one single boat of this kind won’t – despite its huge size – be able to do much to tackle the many millions of tons of plastic out there. That’s why the plans of the boat will be made open source – so that other plastic-pickers can be built and the problem tackled more effectively. In the long-term though, we’ll only really be able to solve the problem by stopping it at the source – with new circular production techniques, more efficient waste management, and most importantly, reduced plastic consumption – that puts a halt to any more plastic finding its way into our seas.