A skinny young man with a mop of dark hair takes the stage at a 2012 TEDx event. His name is Boyan Slat and he’s on a mission to rid the ocean of plastic. The audience listens in rapt silence as 18 year-old Slat lays out his concept for a device that captures plastic garbage passively before diverting it into a collector using the ocean’s currents.
Maps of the five gyres—massive current systems that circulate water in the major oceans—flash on the screen. The goal, Slat explains, is eventually to clean all the oceans, starting with the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a stew of nearly two trillion pieces of plastic swirling endlessly around a region twice the size of Texas.