The world's first trash barrier made entirely of bubbles was unveiled in Amsterdam in an attempt to collect waste in the city's canals before reaching the North Sea.
A Dutch start-up, the municipality of Amsterdam, and the Regional Water Board launched the Great Bubble Barrier, a simple device that funnels trash, especially small pieces of plastic, to the side of the Westerdok canal where it can be recovered. Tests have shown that it can deflect more than 80% of floating debris.
"More than two-thirds of the plastics in the ocean come out of rivers and canals, so if you have to intercept it, why not do it in rivers?" Says Philip Ehrhorn, a co-inventor of the technology. "You cannot put a physical barrier on a canal - it must be open for wildlife and recreation."
The hope is that the innovation will help address the growing ocean plastic waste crisis. Estimates suggest that up to 8 million tons of plastic end up in the world's seas each year, the equivalent of a truckload of old bottles, trays and containers per minute.
The bubble barrier is a long, perforated tube that runs diagonally for 60 meters through the bottom of the channel. Compressed air is pumped through the tube and rises to the surface, and then the natural water stream helps push the debris to the side.
Ehrhorn, a German naval architect and ocean engineer, was inspired by a water treatment plant he saw while studying in Australia in 2015. “At one stage they aerate the water and on a large surface they put air bubbles like a large jacuzzi” He said.
“The little pieces of plastic that people throw into the bathroom would come together in a corner and that was the trigger for the idea for me. If you can guide the plastic to one side, can't you do it in a more directed and purposeful way in a river? "
At the same time, three enthusiastic Dutch sailors fans and friends, Anne Marieke Eveleens, Francis Zoet and Saskia Studer, were discussing the problem over a beer in Amsterdam one night and they came up with the idea of a bubble curtain separating the waste. The two teams came together to work on the idea, with the help of a € 500,000 prize from the Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge and other prizes.
The first operational barrier in Amsterdam, which will run 24 hours a day for three years, aims to complement dredging operations, which currently collect 42,000 kg of larger plastics from the Dutch capital's waterways each year. The waste from the bubble barrier will be collected separately, then analyzed by plastics action group Schone Rivieren (clean rivers).
Marieke van Doorninck, director of sustainability for the Amsterdam council, hopes she will be a successful example. "The canals of Amsterdam have enormous appeal," he said. “But when you think of them, you don't think of plastic bottles and bags in the water. The bubble barrier will mean that less plastic reaches the ocean, and is a step towards better regulation of our ecosystem, for the benefit of man, other animals and the environment.
In the small flooded country, this kind of innovation is welcome. Bianca Nijhof, Managing Director of the Dutch Water Association, which organizes the Amsterdam International Water Week conference, which takes place this week, added: “The Dutch live with water and do not fight against it: 50% of the The country is below sea level, more than half are prone to flooding and in 2018 we had a severe drought, ”he said. “This special relationship with water combined with an entrepreneurial mindset means that innovation is at our core. The bubble barrier is a clean water solution for everyone ”.