How can a simple bubble “barrier” help solve the problem of marine plastic waste?

Media reported that when people strolled along the canal in the Westerdok district of Amster, they may see a large pile of plastic waste piled up along the canal. And now Dutch start-up The Great Bubble Barrier is working with the city’s water authority and the Amsterdam city council on a three-year Westerdok pilot program to launch a new bubble “barrier” to stop plastic waste from flowing to the sea.

In theory, bubble walls from porous tubes (carrying compressed air on canal beds) can capture plastic waste without hampering ships or aquatic wildlife. Bubble barriers are even said to be able to combat the breeding of harmful algae by increasing the amount of oxygen in the water. The pipes are placed at an angle, so the flow of the river causes the garbage to flow to one side of the canal, where it can be collected and disposed of by floating platforms.

The company hopes the barrier will also capture smaller particles that Amsterdam’s garbage collectors cannot collect. It is reported that these garbage collection vessels can collect about 42 tons of plastic waste from the city’s canals each year.

The company had previously tested the prototype on the Ethel River in the Netherlands. The prototype was found to capture an average of 86% of plastic waste, preventing it from entering the North Sea. The program is to analyze the captured waste to monitor the extent and type of plastic waste contamination in Amsterdam, as well as the effectiveness of the barrier itself.

According to figures released by the World Economic Forum in 2016, 8 million tons of plastic waste enter the ocean every year around the world, which is equivalent to “a garbage truck full of plastic dumping into the sea every minute”. In 2010 alone, between 4.8 million and 12.7 million tons of plastic waste were dumped into the ocean, a 2015 study published in the journal Science found.

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