Although separated by a century and continent, Burnham would have applauded Boyan Slat's efforts to clean up the world's oceans—a project Slat began when was just 16-years old and living in the Netherlands. Now in his mid-twenties and with millions of dollars in funding, Slat's big plan is about to be put to the test. This summer a two-mile boom / filter designed to clean up "The Great Pacific Garbage Patch" (the largest of five garbage patches swirling aound the world's oceans) will be towed into place by Slat's nonprofit The Ocean Cleanup.
There is so much plastic in the sea that recently a dead whale washed up with 64 pounds of the stuff in its stomach.
Even if successful, there is second problem with recycling the plastic, which comes from many different sources. Some of the plastic contains harmful chemicals, but those bits are impossible to sort out. However, a recent, serendipitous discovery of a super-enzyme capable of dissolving plastic into its component petroleum parts may provide a solution. Not only would all the existing plastic be recyclable, but there would also be no need to use oil to create new plastic. Win-win!