At age 12, most kids would worry about completing their homework, not missing out on favorite game or TV show and most importantly play that new game on their parents’ smartphone. But Haaziq Kazi was set out to be different. His motor neurons indulged him into being a young innovator and he found his calling in “cleaning the plastic waste from ocean”.
At the 10th edition of TEDxGateway, held at the DOME @ NSCI Mumbai on December 2, 2018, Haaziq Kazi was one of the youngest speaker. This young prodigy’s ingenuity and dream of a planet sans plastic waste comes across the minute he took the stage. He started with a question, yes not rare for a TED speaker, but definitely not common for a 12-year-old speaker.
“I’ve a question for you,” Kazi, the young man dressed in a semi-formal attire said, bringing anxiety and nervousness among some of the attendees. “Anybody in the audience who doesn’t have plastic today,” he questioned. It was pretty clear that he is on a mission. Kazi need not be judged by his age because what he wants to do inspires a lot of activists and scientists alike.
“Plastic is everywhere. It is interesting how plastic has become integral part of our life,” he adds with a voice, that gives away innocence but then immediately switches gears and talks how his generation is inheriting this planet dominated by the use of plastic, from the ones in your wallet to the bottle used to package drinking water. Over the course of his time on the TEDxGateway stage, he talks about plastic debt, amount of not recycled plastic per person in India or the United States and in large, how this plastic is being dumped into the ocean.
While most folks would see this as just another problem, Haaziq decided to take it upon himself, to solve this growing problem of plastic waste in our oceans. He designed an intelligent ship named ERVIS that he describes can remove waste from ocean surface and thus clean it. This is the brain that hopes to cause a change. BGR India caught up with this young prodigy to understand what exactly is going on in that tiny brain. Here is an edited excerpt from that interaction:
When did you first think of cleaning plastic waste from the ocean?
Haaziq Kazi: It started two years back when I saw some documentaries on National Geographic channel on the ocean waste problem. Two things stuck to me, the first being he magnitude of the problem. There are like 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the ocean and to help visualize it, it’s enough to stack two liter plastic bottles from here to the moon and back, twice. There are like 5 areas which are called gyres and the biggest of them is the great pacific patch which is thrice the size of France. And that’s just the one which is floating, there is also waste which is at bottom of oceans and beaches. As big the problem is what had an even more profound impact was how it was affecting marine life.
Annually over a million birds and 1,00,000 marine animals die because of plastic in oceans. What one should realize about marine animals dying from plastic is not the number of death, rather the process which leads them to death.
The thing with death of animals consuming plastic is it’s not instantaneous death. Lot of these birds and animals eat the plastic thinking it is food, only for the plastic to get stuck in their stomach or intestinal lining. Some creatures like turtle have downward facing spines in their throats which prevent the possibility of regurgitation. Most animals are unable to get the plastic outside their body once they swallow it. Which leads to either blockage of their stomach and intestine. This prevents them from consuming food leading to starvation. Imagine not being able to eat anything and starving to death slowly and painfully.
Did you know many sea turtles commonly deal with “bubble butts,” turtles that float as a result of trapped gas caused by harmful decomposition of marine debris inside a turtle’s body. The gases cause the turtle to float, which leads to starvation or makes them an easy target for predators. And so it really moved me and it was always in my mind to do something about it hence I decided I wanted make a ship which can collect the waste and clean it.
What were the immediate challenges?
HK: So, when I started a little over 2 years ago, there was very little information on ocean waste problem which was available. People only recently have started realizing the impact of plastic pollution. And I realized making a ship was not exactly a child’s play let alone trying to make a bleeding edge ship which is radically different from the ones in oceans today.
Ocean pollution is such a less researched subject, we still don’t know the exact magnitude of it. Although there are different research presenting statistics on it, it is sad how we know less of the damage we have made towards our earth. It was only till a few days back there was a research which stated the salt we consume has good chances of containing microplastics.
“Solution to a problem starts with awareness, research and measures to contain it.”
Being in an area on which awareness has just started, research is in infancy stage and very few viable solution for measures to contain it exist, provides both a staggering challenge. So, it was very difficult to ascertain the magnitude of the problem and then trying to create a solution.
Tell us about ERVIS, the acronym, and how it works?
HK: ERVIS is a bleeding edge design of a ship with chambers and saucers surrounding it. While designing ERVIS, I was cautious and I didn’t want it to add to the problem of ocean pollution which current ships in oceans do. Around 20 percent of waste in oceans is contributed by marine ships so I wanted ERVIS not to be a contributor to it. From start, I wanted ERVIS to be powered by renewable energy sources like solar and renewable natural gas.
ERVIS, as a result, is essentially a large boat with saucers and compartments. The saucers float and rotate on surface of ocean to pull the waste inside. The ship also has multiple compartments to store the waste. Once waste is collected, ERVIS segregates it depending on the type of waste collected by it. There are four main type of plastic in oceans – large plastic, medium, small and micro plastic. ERVIS has different chambers to store the segregated waste and it also has an oil chamber to collect waste oil.
Based on the type of plastic it collects, ERVIS would compact and store it. Once waste is collected and analyzed we would send it back to land for recycling. I am currently also trying to create a system of flotilla of ERVISes which would be segregated in collector and transporter ships. Collector ERVISes would be responsible for scavenging and transporter would be responsible for recycling and bringing it back. I liked the name ERVIS, it was just my imagination I came with it, my ERVIS, my vision of changing the oceans.
Do you see an opportunity to scale your creation for any other purpose?
HK: The initial design principle of ERVIS was to go in deep ocean and deal with large ocean waste problem but I realized closer to home we have 2 of the top 10 rivers in the world who contribute to ocean waste problem – Indus and Ganga. India also has a very large coast line suffering from same waste problem. While playing with the model, I realized that it could be scaled down to man rivers and seas, essentially any water body to collect waste and clean it.
What else do you intend to fix?
HK: I have met quite a few exciting youngsters and I am amazed by the ideas they have and the way they want to change the world for good. For myself, I am already thinking of urban transportation problem and create a more effective and sustainable urban transportation system.
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Who do you draw inspiration from?
HK: In tech, it has to be Elon Musk and the folks at Google. The stuff they are doing is already redefining the way we live our life. Especially with what Elon Musk is doing and planning to do with Tesla, SpaceX, Hyperloop and Boring Company. And Google is everywhere with the stuff they are doing in AI. I think Google will influence our life in a more profound manner going forward.
In life one principal which has guided me in creating ERVIS was be the change you want to see in the world, which was said by Mahatma Gandhi, his teachings have a very strong influence on me.
What do you do for leisure?
HK: Like any other 12 year old kid, who likes to go about his life normally. One who likes few subjects in school like science, math, design and coding. I love playing football and hanging out with friends, read books, read lots and lots of books, play video games, Star Wars, be a good and at times protective elder brother to my 10 year old brother and sleep. Oh yeah also paint my imagination.