Cleaning Our Oceans, and Now Our Rivers Too!

Cleaning Our Oceans, and Now Our Rivers Too!

It’s no secret that plastic is overtaking Earth’s oceans. In fact, millions of tons of plastic make their way into the ocean each year. Much of this plastic collects in what is known as garbage patches. Boyan Slat and The Ocean Cleanup are tackling the issue head on.

Cleaning Our Oceans

At just 18 years of age, Dutch inventor Boyan Slat founded The Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ridding plastic from the world’s oceans. In 2019, The Ocean Cleanup made history when it launched its System 001/B vessel. Using the natural forces of the ocean, the system collected two shipping containers of trash from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Slat’s team has developed another system, the Interceptor, that scoops plastic out of rivers before it can make its way to the ocean.

From the technology used to clean the oceans to the global impact of plastic in the oceans, Slat’s story provides a solid foundation for classroom discussions about protecting the environment, engineering inventions, international policy, and social responsibility.

Just the Facts Banner

Our expert researchers have vetted the most current content to give you easy answers about the basics. Here’s what you need to know right now:

  • The largest ocean garbage patch is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located in the North Pacific Gyre between Hawaii and California. It is about the twice the size of the state of Texas.
  • Gyres are rotating ocean currents that pull objects, such as plastic and trash, toward their center. Five gyres exist across the globe, and each one contains a garbage patch.
  • The garbage patches only gained worldwide attention in 1997, when a yachtsman named Charles Moore found himself sailing through a sea of garbage in the North Pacific Gyre.
  • More than 1 million marine animals and birds die each year due to plastic in the ocean. They suffocate, ingest, or become entangled in marine debris.
  • Some animals die of starvation after eating plastic waste instead of proper food. There is 180 times more plastic than food at the surface of the ocean in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
  • Removing garbage from the ocean using nets and ships would take thousands of years. Using systems developed by The Ocean Cleanup, it would take just five years to remove 50 percent of debris from the world’s oceans.

Featured in the News

Now that you know the facts about the discovery of a new Earth-sized planet that could possibly support life, check out these fascinating human-interest stories from around the world.

Read:  Dutch Guy Famous for Cleaning Up Pacific Garbage Patch is Now Clearing the World's Rivers Too

Read:  Bill Calls for Dramatically Cutting Plastic Pollution

Watch:  Explaining the Interceptor

Watch:  TESS Satellite Discovered Its 1st World Orbiting 2 Stars

ListenThe NOAA Ocean Podcast: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Conversation Starters Banner

Depending on the ages of your students and the topics you teach, Earth and Space Science offer a wide variety of interesting classroom discussion ideas.

General discussions about hot topics and current affairs related to marine debris and protecting the environment.

  • Who is Boyan Slat? Can you name other young people who are trying to make a difference in the world today?
  • How do garbage patches form? Where does the garbage come from?
  • What are conservation groups doing to help protect the environment?

Lead-in for discussions about relevant curriculum-based topics.

  • What is marine debris? Where do we find it?
  • What impact does garbage in the ocean have on marine life and ocean processes?
  • What can you do to help protect the environment and reduce marine debris?

Learning More Banner

Check out these links to stay up to date and informed about marine debris and its impact on our planet.

 Curriculum Links Banner

 Classroom Topics

  • Engineering technology to help solve environmental problems
  • Life science/oceanography (environmental and chemical processes and their impact on marine life)
  • International policy
  • Global environmental impacts due to the consumption of plastic products

Earths Oceans - Pacific

 Our 5 Oceans - Pacific Ocean (Grade 5)
Earth's Water - Pollution

Earth's Water - Water Pollution (Grade 4)


Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Plastic

The 3 R's - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle Plastic (Grade 2)