According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, about 8 million tons of plastic winds up in our oceans every year, threatening marine life, including ecosystems all over the world, the Center for Biological Diversity estimates that plastic waste will outweigh all the fish in the sea by the year 2050.
This is a global disaster and we must act now.
So now what?
Joining me today is Boyan Slat, founder and CEO of the ocean cleanup, who is working very hard to remedy this problem, Boyan and thank you very much for joining me.
So in 2019, the ocean cleanup day Debuted the interceptor, which is designed to catch garbage in the mouth of rivers before it flows into the ocean.
So far three interceptors have been deployed around the world.
And you've now entered into a partnership with a manufacturing company called Konecranes.
To scale up the production of interceptors.
Please tell us about this partnership and what will come of it.
Yeah, so at the energy, clean up our mission is to rip the world's oceans of plastic.
And indeed, with the interceptors we hope to stop.
Plus to get the source.
Now as the ocean cleanup were relatively small organization and of course we can't do this by ourselves 1000 rivers that we need to tackle to stop 80% of plastic go into the ocean That's a lot of rivers and we want to do that in the shortest time as possible.
So really we're looking for partners to help us with with rolling this out.
We're good at the engineering the research And sort of finding these partners and we need help when it comes to, for example, the manufacturing of the interceptors, the servicing and actually installing them in the rivers.
That and these three things is what Cody cranes will be helping us with.
So how does that work?
How is it funded is the funding coming from the government's or is Kona cranes investing in the ocean cleanup?
In essence, they provide services to us, right?
So making these interceptors servicing them, installing them.
And when it comes to the financial flows, you know, this depends case by case.
Of course at this moment, with the funding that we raise, we basically pay them to to build these interceptors.
And what can happen in the future hopefully, is that there will be more and more pool from the countries themselves to actually do river deployments and then maybe at some point we don't even have to be in between the governments and and our suppliers anymore.
So it really depends case by case.
So we've had the interceptor.
1.0 now we're on to the interceptor.
2.0 What have you learned from the interceptor 1.0 and like what's new about the interceptor 2.0?
Yeah, well, it's actually the third generation that we're now going to deploy.
With the first two generations, we've course, removed a lot of plastic but still We found that we could still further reduce the costs as well as the ease of rollout the ease of assembly to really speed up the deployment as much as possible, while also making it more efficient.
So one of the things you'll see on the latest generation interceptor Is a massive two and a half meter wide conveyor about to take out the plastic.
The previous generation only had a one and a half meter wide conveyor belt and so what we found was that it often clogged when it comes to very large debris.
So widening that out will hopefully also improve the reliability of the approach.
So do you have any stats around how much garbage the interceptors are collecting?
So last year, we collected over half a million pounds of trash.
That's still the currently tiny amount compared to all the plastic that's flowing in every year.
But yeah, we've been learning a lot.
We also had actually quite a lot of downtime last year.
But now we're confident that we're solving those things step by step.
And we're aiming for a much, much higher number this year.
So right now you guys have three interceptors deployed.
What is the plan like how many more interceptors is Kona cranes gonna build and how many more will be deployed in the next few years?
So before rapidly scaling up, we first want to really validate the model.
So that's what we call the validation phase, spanning this and next year, in that it's about validating the right, The operator model.
So the right partners, we need to, scale up, we need to determine how we're going to fund this, but also we need to really build a track record when it comes to the actual technology and the cleanup side of things.
So in order to do that, we're aiming to have roughly 10 rivers tech codes by the end of this year.
And, actually quite a bit more next year.
And through those we hope to really have validated the technology and removed all the teething troubles before then rapidly scaling up.
So what have been some of the biggest hurdles for deploying the interceptors?
Do you have like a team just working on deployment like how does that work?
Yeah, so what we found out physically during the past year is that it's actually much harder than we thought to really do this work on the ground.
So it It takes a lot of effort when it comes to things like inputs when it comes to permits, assembling the machine, deploying it, building the consortium of all the stakeholders, parties like the operator waste management, etc.
Bringing all this together.
That's what you need to have a successful deployment.
So Figuring out how can we speed that up as much as possible through partners is really the the crux we believe in getting ready for rapid, rapid rollout.
Have you had any challenges with weather, making it have a hard time deploying the interceptors.
Yeah, so the interceptor is designed to, to really be able to handle a wide variety weather conditions.
We did, however, have one issue in the Dominican Republic where last year there was hurricane Laura which hit it quite quite badly.
Intercept itself was fine, it was just that there was so many what you call water hyacinths.
So these sort of invasive water plants that have weeds that are floating at the water surface, they were all released by this hurricane, which meant that the giant islands of weeds were coming down this river.
And that actually Did damage the moorings of the interceptors?
So we did have quite a lot of downtime because of that.
Now we're kind of trying to figure out before the next hurricane season, can we somehow stop these water hyacinth upstream of the interceptor deployment so that it doesn't actually impact the interceptor itself.
Yeah, there's so many challenges you guys are facing and it's incredible how you're trying to overcome all these obstacles.
So one other obstacle is how do you get cities and governments on board with installing interceptors in the rivers.
Do you have a team dedicated just to that?
Yeah, we do.
And I think they're doing an amazing job traveling around the world to present the solution and what help we need from them.
And generally what we find is that governments are really receptive about this.
They realize that there is an issue that it's.
Cheaper to catch plastic and rivers than to just let it destroy their fisheries and tourism etc.
So, the interest is there.
It's just about kind of the speed and of course, sort of the complexity of dealing with with governments which is what we're trying to navigate So what are you going to install an interceptor in the United States, I know there's plans to install one in the LA River.
So when is that going down?
Actually being that Biona Creek, the LA interceptor, so that's near Marina Del Rey.
And we're aiming for that to be deployed before the next rainy season, if you can call covered that and.
Before the what you refer to as the first flush, right?
So the first big downpour in the fall.
Yeah, we aim to be before that because of course the rain, Mobilizes a lot of this trash to, to the ocean.>> So, tell me about this research paper the ocean cleanup is working on with Coldplay.
I saw this press release.
I was like cold please get involved.
This is cool.
It's getting a little more mainstream where more people, it's getting the word out a little more.
So tell us about how that came about.>> Yeah, no.
So, Chris Martin and myself have been.
Talking a lot for years already has been, actually the whole band has been really supportive towards our mission.
And yeah, it's really exciting that they picked the bullet and decided to start this partnership which we're now kick starting with the funding initiative of one interceptor deployment.
[SOUND] In Malaysia, interceptor number five is going to be yeah dedicated or adopted by by coldplay and but we definitely have a few other cool ideas which we'll be working on in the years to come.
Maybe they can have a concert performed on an interceptor.
I think that would be killer.
That would be a viral moment on the internet for sure.
So give us an update on the deployment and the efficiency of the ocean cleanup systems here.
So, of course on one hand, we need to To clean up the the rivers or stop plastic from going into the oceans in rivers.
On the other hand, we still have the legacy pollution, especially this famous, Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which doesn't go away by itself.
So back in 2018, we deployed our first cleanup system there.
System one, and they actually had a lot of issues broke down with to bring it back to shore.
Then we made some adjustments, deployed what we then called system one B, the following year in the patch, and then we're able to collect the first shipping containers full of plastic, but that was really still at a very small scale And it wasn't really scalable yet to actually cleaning the whole patch.
So, based on those learnings, we went back to the drawing board, we actually completely revisited the design And we've just started the procurement for system two, which will be built in the next few months.
And we're aiming for around July, August to be back out on the Pacific ocean and hopefully we'll Collect a lot more plastic.
So it's really about adding one system that does the job very, very well which is, we believe the turning point to actually be able to scale this up to too many systems in the in the batch.
So when will we see a fleet of ocean systems in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch So a lot depends on what's happening this summer right to its system to.
And realistically, maybe two, three years before we have a full fleet out in the patch, but again, a lot depends on what's happening this summer.
What does that look like?
How many do you see as being a fleet but depends on how big they're going to be.
But in ballpark.
We always said, you know, a few 10s of interceptor or ocean cleanup systems is what we need.
You know, it looks like the optimal size is probably a bit bigger, which means that you may Go down to say, between 10 and 20 systems of maybe kilometer or more.
So, yeah, that's kind of the ballpark you need to think about.
That would be awesome man.
I can't wait to see that.
should look pretty cool to see these giant machines and Every week or two seeing this big load of trash coming back on deck and yeah, and they already wants to so should be pretty spectacular.
So really looking forward to to this summer.
Yeah, it's gonna be fantastic.
So you guys set a goal to clean up 500,000 football fields Have you met that goal or are you close to meeting that goal?
This summer, we will be returning to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch with a completely redesigned system, which will be actually much bigger and hopefully much more operational as well than the previous systems which are really Small Scale prototypes.
And yeah, with that campaign come this summer, we indeed hope to be able to clean up those 500,000 football fields and that's of course, just the beginning.
And yeah, it will be many millions or maybe even billions of football fields in the year to come years to come.
If Of course this campaign that summer will be successful, that's awesome this year, it's really there in that we aim to really transition from mostly r&d work, no preparations to actually being ready for for scale up, which is lower acumen in the next few years.
So So that means on the ocean side having roughly 10 Rivers tickets in like really high quality in terms of uptime in terms of efficiency 10 Rivers done really really well with with with our interceptors and then on the ocean side having a you know one system That is actually operational is collecting, you know many 10s of tons of of trash.
That's, yeah, I think that that would be a good success for this year.
So I'm sure the pandemic has set your teams back a bit.
What sort of obstacles Did you guys encounter during the pandemic?
Did you have to shut down?
Just tell me about how that affected your teams.
So actually still at this moment we are mostly working from home.
Like the lockdown is much more severe here in Netherlands.
Now then then in the US, so yeah, we're still mostly working from home.
So that obviously doesn't help with sort of collaborative work.
The fact that we couldn't enter some countries we were we were operation on Is difficult for example, March last year we were just about to deploy interceptor number four in the Dominican Republic.
And then the day we would have been deployed was actually the day that the country shut down the airports.
So we've actually got to hurry getting our people out of the country.
So, yes, definitely, it does slow you down to make clean the ocean is already quite difficult and then adding an extra hurdle on top of that.
Not really helpful.
But all in all, yeah, I think we'll well, we'll manage and I think we'll soon be back up to speed again.
So a few months ago you debuted the ocean cleanup sunglasses made entirely out of recycled plastic that you've been pulling from the ocean.
How has that been going?
Do you have any updates on the sales of the sunglasses?
So with the sunglasses, we really hope to Demonstrate that you can actually do useful things with this material.
So it's not like we want to be like a sunglass company.
Actually, we're not we're not we're nonprofit focused on cleaning but it was just really a demonstration like look, if you can make sunglasses that are super high premium that they become company that's helped To make these things actually does the sunglasses for Dior and Gucci or the, Hugo Boss or the famous brands, if you can do that with this material, and they definitely there is a lot of value in this and, of course, the most poetic thing would be if we can Keep the clean up going through the plastic that we get out because it would just be this flywheel that will just keep turning so, so that's what we set off to do.
We sold over half of the sunglasses now.
People can still order their own on our website, the ocean cleanup.com And, yeah, I think if we are successful with this hopefully in the years to come when we actually get real big volumes of trash to assure that we can actually sell that material at a very high premium.
And with that keep the clean of going.
Do you have any plans for any other products coming down the line?
We don't plan to become a Products organization.
Our focus is to, to clean the oceans and we have to work with partners to truly do what they do best.
So going forward when it comes to these products made from our material.
It's likely gonna happen with with partners rather than us ourselves.
doing that, I think Well, one thing we learned is that it's quite time intensive.
So, yeah, so we believe it will benefit the mission if we really focus on the cleanup and work with others to bring products to market.
So this is kind of a fun story.
A new species of spider was recently discovered in the scientist named after you.
I thought that was really awesome.
So, how does it feel to have a new species of animal on this planet named after you Yeah, that was quite a story because I'm not too fond of spiders.
Yeah, apologies to the rock monologist or whatever And the person that did debit Yeah, so but for sure it's, a big honour and yeah, it's quite, quite cool that obviously helps.
Well hopefully that species will be around for a very long time right so Definitely honored.
Thank you, scientists who?
Well, my guest today has been Boyan Slat of the Ocean Cleanup.
Boyan thank you very much for joining me today.
I really appreciate it.
Thank you for your interest.