The Ocean Cleanup

The Ocean Cleanup

Delft, Netherlands
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$1 million - $5 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

The Ocean Cleanup has developed world’s first feasible method to clean up half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in just 10 years’ time. Passively, and powered by the natural currents.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if, instead of going after the plastic, the plastic could come to us?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Once there was a stone age, then there was a bronze age, and now we are in the middle of the plastic age. Every year we produce about 300 million tons of plastic and production keeps increasing. Around 30% of the yearly plastic production is aimed for disposable products. Unfortunately, despite efforts to reduce and recycle, much of it ends up in our oceans. It has been calculated that 500 million kilos of plastics are currently in the oceans.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

The Ocean Cleanup is the first to approach the plastic pollution problem at a scale that matches the problem itself. It is also the first initiative that can result in directly measurable reduction of plastic pollution in the ocean. The Ocean Cleanup’s passive technology enables a single system to catch and collect almost half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 10 years’ time. In summary, the structure is a network of floating barriers, attached to the seabed, causing the natural currents to push the plastics towards the barriers. Positioned in a V-orientation, the barriers funnel the plastics towards the center of the structure, enabling a central platform efficiently extract and store the plastic for transportation to land.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

The Ocean Cleanup Array manages to extract 42% of plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 10 years. This would positively impact the marine ecosystem significantly, as well as reduce the costs of damage to the shipping, fisheries and tourism industries.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

The Ocean Cleanup has just finished the first phase of its project by proving feasibility of the concept. A year-long study covering the fields of engineering, oceanography, fluid dynamics, ecology, maritime law, finance and recycling. In June 2014, the Ocean Cleanup published a 530-page study, concluding the concept is the world's first feasible ocean cleanup method. The conclusions had been reviewed by independent experts, but was also offered for open review. Thanks to the in-kind support of volunteers as well as 20 companies and institutes, approximately €2,000,000 of research had been performed with only €100,000 of cash. Full funding of phase 1 has been provided by individuals through crowd funding. By reaching millions of people with our technological development, we have potentially already helped raise awareness about the scale of the problem.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

The Ocean Cleanup projects to be ready for full-scale implementation by 2020, the total costs of which are projected to be €317m over 10 years. Different funding models are currently under investigation, one of which - creating value by recycling plastic into new objects - is of particular interest to the tens of companies that have already shown interest in reusing the ocean plastic. Initial deployment is planned for 30°N, 138°W, between Hawaii and California, in the center of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

The current cost estimate of the upcoming phase is €28.0 million, most of which could be covered through in-kind support. Attaining funds and in-kind support via crowdfunding, private and public partnerships are our main strategies to secure the necessary resources for the project. As landmark project of innovation and sustainability, The Ocean Cleanup’s PR and brand value is often quoted as one of the top reasons to partner up.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

While there are other parties involved in researching and reducing plastic pollution, the Ocean Cleanup is the first to approach the plastic pollution problem at a scale that matches the problem itself. It is also the first initiative that can result in directly measurable reduction of plastic pollution in the ocean. Important short-term mitigation strategies that are undertaken include beach cleanup activities, which are performed on the shorelines of many countries, and ocean cleanups on coastal and oceanic regions where high levels of plastic pollution are affecting many species.

Founding Story

While diving in Greece, Boyan Slat became frustrated when coming across more plastic bags than fish, and wondered: "why can't we clean this up?" While still in secondary school, he then decided to dedicate half a year of research to understand plastic pollution and the problems associated with cleaning it up. This ultimately led to the passive cleanup concept, which he presented at a TEDx conference in 2012. To be able to show the concept he envisioned is technically feasible and financially viable, Boyan Slat paused his life as a first-year Aerospace Engineering student, to focus all his time to developing the idea. The Ocean Cleanup foundation was then founded in February 2013.


The Ocean Cleanup works with a team of approximately 100 committed people, performing research in the fields of engineering, physical oceanography, ecology, finance, maritime law, processing and recycling. Most of these dedicated individuals are professional volunteers. The foundation's Board is composed of Boyan Slat (Chairman), Frans Ratelband (Secretary), and Femke Hoes (Treasurer) and is responsible for the governance of the organization.
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, Delft

Country where this project is creating social impact
What awards or honors has the project received?
Funding: How is your project financial supported?

Individuals, Businesses.


Health and Hygiene, Waste and Packaging.

Audience: Who have you identified as your customer/recipient groups and do these groups value your solution for different reasons? How do you engage different customer/recipient groups to deliver your solution?

Our customer/recipient groups are governments and corporations, but the marine ecosystem and the general public benefits from our solution as well. We seek governmental support through finance, but our solution aims to benefit national governments in return. We attract corporate sponsorships to attain the necessary expertise for R&D, but we also offer value in return via exposure. We use crowdfunding to engage the general public in our project. Our R&D and media exposure helps to engage external parties.

Scaling the solution: How would the prize money and publicity help you to achieve your objectives over the next two years?

To address the remaining uncertainties identified in the feasibility study, a second phase of the project is currently being prepared. In this phase, The Ocean Cleanup would develop a series of up-scaling tests, working towards a large-scale operational pilot in 3 to 4 years. To be more cost-efficient, The Ocean Cleanup will act as a facilitator of the research, outsourcing most of the fundamental research to institutes, and collaborating with offshore and engineering companies to cover most of the tests’ costs.

Experience: Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered

Boyan Slat only had brief experiences with turning ideas into reality, by organizing 300 people to launch a water rocket simultaneously, scoring a Guinness World Record aged 13. After focusing his high school’s final paper on plastic pollution, he put his engineering studies on hold in order to be able work fulltime for The Ocean Cleanup. Working with 100 experienced scientists and engineers, the project has been taken one step closer to reality.

Are you are eligible to attend the Accelerator event in Cambridge and subsequent events in London, UK in January, 2015?


Will you require a visa to enter the UK?

Are you are a current Unilever employee?