As we move forward into 2024, the world looks quite a bit different than it did just a few years ago. We have seen rapid growth in technology, fueling our collective plans for humanity. We have witnessed conflicts on a massive scale, resulting in tremendous casualties and trauma. We continue to see the varietal effects of our changing climate, reprioritizing global planning and forcing change. And yet despite all of the negative we see and hear; I tend to draw inspiration from companies like The Ocean Cleanup working hard to clean up our collective mess without wasting time and energy pointing fingers.

According to Wikipedia, “The Ocean Cleanup is a nonprofit environmental engineering organization based in the Netherlands that develops technology to extract plastic pollution from the oceans and to capture it in rivers before it can reach the ocean.” The most impressive aspect for me is that the Founder, Boyan Slot was a 19-year-old Dutch Engineering student when he decided to spearhead his vision, now employing around 120 people worldwide.

If anyone has ever seen the large-scale marine machines with massive nets that capture trash in our waterways, you are more than likely familiar with their work. If not, this “What We Know” video serves as an excellent introduction to the challenge we all face and the focus of The Ocean Cleanup.

A sad takeaway is humans produce about four hundred million tons of plastic per year, and 20% (80 million tons) is not properly recycled for several reasons. One key fact is that it is primarily middle-income, coastal communities globally that are the main offenders and high-risk populations of concern. With the changing climate, storms can increase pollution to our oceans by way of rivers up to ten times the normalized amount. With an increase in storm potency, we get an extra heavy dose of potential pollution as well. 

Some may have heard or seen the five (5) gigantic blobs of plastic-based trash floating around our planet’s oceans. This includes the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which lives right off our west coast in the USA and is swollen to the size of two states of Texas. Unfortunately, 80% of this patch comes from irresponsible fishing activities at sea. As a population, we might consider an alternative for a few years. It turns out that over time these plastics and other synthetics break down into microplastics, naturally poisoning sea life and then eventually everyone else. 

According to The Ocean Cleanup, rivers are responsible for 80% of the ocean’s pollution. Thankfully, charities like Sungai Watch exist, with a specific focus on river cleanup. Sungai Watch was founded in 2020 by Balinese siblings Gary, Kelly, and Sam Bencheghib in Bali, Indonesia, and now employs over one hundred people. I came across this company’s online videos, which highlight the “before” and “after” images of their projects. Truly inspirational work. So far, they have cleaned 260 villages with over 1,600,000 kg of plastic collected in a geographically vulnerable part of the world.

My favorite part of this effort is how their team has discussions with residents on evolving into cultures that prevent “throw-away behavior.” A detailed process is executed on every project, which begins with the physical cleanup. The trash is then sorted into categories and analyzed for various data. Then, the material is broken down and passed along to a newly formed sister company, Sungai Design which will then find ways to implement the reworked plastics. This sustainability piece is huge and hopefully prevents the problem from taking place in the first place.

Overall, I feel very inspired when I read news that includes stories like these. I hope that the next viral fads are based around expanding awareness of these and other vital issues that truly matter and have a tremendous impact on all our lives. Now more than ever we need great minds to work together on positive change. Small-scale implementations are where it all begins, and I recommend doing whatever you can to help steer the planet ship toward a more optimistic future and inspire others to do the same.