Jim McMahon/Mapman®

Grocery bags. Water bottles. Straws. Those plastic items—and many, many others—are floating around the world’s oceans. In all, trillions of pieces of plastic litter the sea.

Why? Humans have produced enormous amounts of plastic in recent decades. Most hasn’t been recycled. Once tossed, plastic waste often gets pushed by wind and rain into rivers that empty into the sea.

Ocean plastic threatens sea life, including birds, sea turtles, and whales. They sometimes die after eating plastic or getting tangled in it. 

But Boyan Slat, an inventor from the Netherlands, may have a solution. He and his team at The Ocean Cleanup have developed a device that collects and removes ocean plastic.

They recently tested the floating, netlike system in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a massive collection of trash drifting in the Pacific Ocean. The device captured large pieces of plastic (like fishing nets) and tiny bits called microplastics. Now Slat wants to build a fleet of such systems to clean oceans worldwide.

The invention has received a lot of attention. But environmental experts say the best way to tackle ocean trash is to stop plastic from reaching the sea in the first place.

With that in mind, The Ocean Cleanup has developed another system that removes plastic from rivers. Still, experts say additional solutions are critical. They say many nations need better systems for recycling and waste disposal. 

They also say companies should reduce plastic packaging and use more recycled material. People can help too, by avoiding single-use plastics.