Developing a scalable, solar solution for plastics
With 1000 rivers responsible for nearly 80 per cent of all pollution entering the oceans, efforts are underway to turn the tide on plastics.
Dutch non-governmental organisation the Ocean Cleanup has developed what it’s calling the first “scalable solution to efficiently intercept plastics in rivers before it reaches the oceans”.
Developed in conjunction with engineering consultancy Arcardis, the solar-powered floating system collects plastic waste and other debris from rivers autonomously.
To date, four Interceptors have been built. As part of a “Pilot Project- River Plastic Interception”, the plastic-eating vessel has been immediately put to work on the Klang river in Malaysia.
In 2017, over 6500 tons of plastic waste travelled through the Klang and out to sea, including plastic waste coming from large cities such as Kuala Lumpur.
The Interceptor process in five stages
As can be seen in the video above, there are five stages to the Interceptor process:
1) Barrier: River waste flowing with the current is guided by the barrier towards the opening of the Interceptor. Due to the catamaran design, the water flow path is optimised to pass through the system, carrying plastic onto the conveyor belt
2) Conveyor belt: The current moves the debris onto a conveyor belt, which continuously extracts the trash from the water and delivers the waste to the shuttle
3) Shuttle: A shuttle automatically distributes the debris across six dumpsters. Using sensor data, the containers are filled equally until they reach full capacity
4) Dumpsters: The Interceptor can story up to 50m3 of the trash before needing to be emptied
5) Empty and recycle: When it’s nearly full, the Interceptor automatically sends a text message to the local operators to collect the waste. The vessel is then moved to the side of the river, the dumpsters emptied before the collected waste is sent to waste management facilities for collecting before the barge is returned to the Interceptor.
What are ambitions for the Interceptor?
Plastic waste in oceans is a significant problem because as that plastic breaks down, it can enter the human food chain through marine wildlife that ingests it.
Last year a study revealed that people could even ingest 2000 microplastics per year through table salt used for seasoning.
The Ocean Cleanup has strong ambitions for the project: it wants to deploy armies of Interceptors to 1000 rivers around the world by 2025.
This will help to reduce the amount of plastic entering the oceans each year by 80 per cent.
What has been the progress so far?
Four Interceptors have been built to-date; two systems are already operational in Jakarta (Indonesia) and Klang (Malaysia).
A third system is in Vietnam to be installed in Can Tho in the Mekong Delta (Vietnam), while the fourth is destined to be deployed in Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic).
Furthermore, Thailand has signed up to deploy an Interceptor near Bangkok, and further agreements are nearing completion, including one in LA County (US), kick-starting the scale-up.
“To truly rid the oceans of plastics, we need to both clean up the legacy and close the tap, preventing more plastic from reaching the oceans in the first place,” said Boyan Slat, founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup.