A young Dutch inventor is widening his effort to purge the Pacific Ocean of plastic by turning his focus to rivers, using a solar-powered boat to catch rubbish before it reaches the seas.
Twenty-five-year-old university dropout Boyan Slat founded The Ocean Cleanup to develop a system that catches plastic waste floating in the ocean. The next stage is the Interceptor, a vessel which trawls rivers doing the same.
Slat's organisation has drawn criticism previously for focusing only on plastic trash already floating in the world's oceans. Experts say 9 million tonnes of plastic – including bottles, bags and toys – flows into the ocean every year from beaches and rivers, endangering marine life.
Three Interceptors have already been deployed to Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam, and a fourth is heading to the Dominican Republic, says Slat.
Slat live-streamed the unveiling of the Interceptor at Rotterdam harbour, dumping hundreds of rubber ducks into the water to show off its efficacy. The Interceptor caught nearly all of them.
The machines currently cost €700,000, but Slat says the cost will drop as production increases. He added that he believes the economic impact of not picking plastic out of rivers is higher than the cost of buying and using the machines.
Izham Hashim from the government of Selangor state in Malaysia attended the launch and said he is happy with the machine. "It's been used for one and a half months in the river and it's doing very well, collecting the plastic bottles and all the rubbish," he said.
Slat believes 1,000 rivers are responsible for some 80 per cent of plastic pollution in the oceans. He wants to tackle them all in the next five years.
Jan van Franeker of the Wageningen Marine Research Institute has been critical of the Ocean Cleanup in the past, but said the new device looks promising.
"I am really happy they finally moved toward the source of the litter," he said. "The design, from what I can see, looks pretty good."