Though the sheer magnitude of waste in our oceans makes the problem seem impossible to fix, one 22-year old Dutch engineer has a plan to design the largest ocean cleanup in history — and to rethink the way we use plastic along the way.
The engineer, Boyan Slat, and his team spent years mapping the Great Pacific garbage patch, one of just five in the world, to figure out how to implement clean-up efforts at the lowest cost. They now use a line of floating barriers — or an "artificial coastline," as Slat puts it — to concentrate the plastic for removal.
Besides ruining pristine beaches, the ocean's plastic breaks down into dangerous, tiny particles, known as microplastics, that absorb the chemicals from their environments. These particles then become a permanent part of ecosystems and food chains. As much as 90 percent of all seabirds worldwide now consume plastic as part of their diets, according to a 2015 study. It's even a problem in Antarctica.
VICE's Isobel Yeung traveled to the shores of Hawaii and the coast of the North Sea to see the deployment of Slat's prototype and discuss the feasibility of saving our world’s oceans.