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Inventor tries to conquer the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch"

Conquering the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch"
Inventor attempts to conquer the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" 02:05

ALAMEDA, Calif. — A ship on Saturday will start towing a long device from Northern California more than 1,000 miles out to sea to begin scooping up a massive heap of trash that's estimated to weigh 88,000 tons. It may look like a giant pipeline, but the 2,000-foot-long contraption will soon be cleaning up what's known as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," made up of an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of floating plastic.

"This area is twice the size of Texas. If you were to skim that with boats and nets, it would take around 79,000 years," said Boyan Slat.

The 24-year-old Dutch inventor said his technology can do it much faster. He came up with the idea when he was just 16.

"I was scuba diving in Greece. I saw more plastic bags than fish and I thought why can't we just clean this up," Slat said.

He took CBS News out on the water to show how his ocean cleanup system was inspired by trash-covered beaches.

"Coastlines are very effective ways of catching plastic. But the thing is, in those vast ocean garbage patches, there's simply no coastlines to catch any plastic," Slat said. "So we built our own artificial coastline."  

Once it's towed to the garbage patch, the collection system floats freely with ocean current and forms a "u" shape to corral the trash. A skirt about 10 feet deep will catch the plastic, and a ship will then collect it for recycling into products like sunglasses. 

Ultimately, Slat hopes to deploy 60 of the systems.

"we expect to remove half of the area pacific garbage patch every five years," Slat said.

Ocean experts are hopeful.

"It's very much an idea worth testing, but if we clean that up and don't stop the plastics at the source, we have an even bigger problem," said Dr. Jerry Schubel, president and CEO of Aquarium of the Pacific.

For now, Slat is focused on this first full-scale test. When asked if he's sure it will work, he said no, but added, "That's what we'll see in the coming months."

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