Ever thought some ideas were just too big to carry through? Or that you were too young to do it yourself? Boyan Slat, founder of The Ocean Cleanup, doesn’t. At the age of sixteen the young inventor went scuba diving and “saw more plastic than fish”, as he describes his experience in his TEDx Talk from 2012. This was the start of a project known today as The Ocean Cleanup.
Boyan Slat, born 1994, is a Dutch inventor, entrepreneur, environmentalist, former student and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup, a project founded in 2013. Their goal is to help clean the ocean by collecting over 5 trillion pieces of plastic which is currently littering the ocean. Slat and his team estimates it can be done in five years.
“You can’t clean up something you don’t know the size of. […] I knew we really needed a better estimate so I simply contacted some professors from the universities Delft and Utrecht who then actually helped us”
Slat says in his TEDx Talk. After putting together a team of 100 scientists and engineers, The Ocean Cleanup stated that the cleanup would be possible. Even though the prototype has been launched and is working sufficiently so far, the actual cleanup won’t begin until 2020.
The fact that this is the first real try of cleaning up the oceans is a bit worrying. However, should the project be successful it would not only clean the oceans but also inspire others to take on projects many have declared impossible.
Looking back on what I did at the age of sixteen I feel somewhat inadequate in comparison to Slat. However, the fact that a now twenty-two-year-old is CEO of the largest cleanup project in history, because of an idea he got when he was sixteen, sure feels promising. Now, everyone can’t have the idea or the mind of Slat. Nor will everyone have the opportunity to speak about a revolutionary idea at the age of eighteen at TED.
Nonetheless, we should definitely share his eagerness and passion. Maybe we are even obliged to, as young adults trying to find our way. I don’t know what encourages me the most, the fact that he was a student just like us and that he might change the future as we thought we knew it, or that people actually listen to him. The most admirable thing with Slat is that he actually turned his ideas and words into action at such a young age. Evidently, it’s a good thing Slat began when he did as the process leading up to the actual mission would be a seven-year long journey.
In conclusion, if you, like Slat, are the future of engineering and have a ground-breaking idea that can change one of the biggest threats to our planet, just do what he did and you will be fine. As for the rest of us mortals, let’s rely on the fact that change is possible as long as you give your idea a chance. Boyan Slat set the bar, you decide if you want to go higher or lower.