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Waste waste Recycling


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by: Sharai Hoekema
fighting against the plastic soup

The concept of the ‘plastic soup’, also known as the Great Pacific garbage patch or trash vortex, has become a rather infamous one over the last few years. As the word suggests, it is best imagined as a literal bowl of soup, filled with plastic and debris instead of vermicelli. The currents of the ocean are pushing a large field of trash around, concentrating it in an area of the ocean somewhere between Hawaii and California. 

Back in 1988, the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) of the United States already hypothesised its existence, after which the sailer Charles J. Moore became the first to accidentally witness it in 1997 - when he ended up in a stretch of floating debris on his way home from a yacht race. According to the best current estimates, the area would roughly be the size of Spain and France combined. A great danger to animal life and the ecosystem as a whole.


While pretty much everyone agrees that this is a problem that has to be combatted, the science and mechanics of how to go about doing so are far from definitive. This had made it a hot issue for young, innovative companies who want to do their part in making the world a better place. One of those companies is the Amsterdam-based start-up The Great Bubble Barrier. 

Only a number of weeks ago, The Great Bubble Barrier won the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge 2018 - one of the largest annual international competitions that focuses on sustainable innovation. Founder Anne Marieke Eveleens took home a cheque worth half a million euros to further develop their “Bubble Barrier”, an innovation that uses an air bubble screen to prevent plastic and debris in rivers from reaching the ocean.


Approximately 80% of the plastic that floats around our earth’s oceans has gotten there through the rivers. As such, cutting off this passageway could drastically decrease the amount of new plastic entering the seas. This is why the working of this Bubble Barrier is pretty nifty. It employs a perforated tube that is placed on the riverbed, through which high-pressure air is sent. This does, in turn, create a curtain of air bubbles. 

This curtain blocks both plastic waste on the surface - such as floating plastic bottles and packaging - as well as microparticles that are floating underwater. Besides blocking any garbage, it also guides it alongside the bubble curtain to the waterfront. The idea is that, through dedicated and swift collection procedures, it can be collected and subsequently recycled.


This solution is another example of great minds finding relatively simple solutions for complicated environmental problems, such as the plastic soup. Whereas most scientists tend to focus directly on the problem at hand - reducing the floating landfill that is already the size of a good part of Europe -, the solution of The Great Bubble Barrier focusses on ensuring that this will, in fact, not grow even larger, to an area that might encompass the whole of Europe. 

Simultaneously, it prevents a situation that would most closely resemble a game of whack-a-mole; where a single clean-up effort might somewhat decrease the affected area, only to find that a fresh new supply of plastic and hubris has already joined the floating junkyard in the meantime.


The solution itself has a relatively low impact on the environment, as it is merely a tube and high-pressure air that does the trick of blocking the debris. Furthermore, founder Anne Marieke Eveleens has already pledged to use some of her prize money to look into sustainable methods of trash collection. 

Additionally, while using bubbles is great for blocking plastic, it is absolutely harmless - and perhaps even a natural occurrence - for sea animals and ships alike. 


Now that they have won the competition and pocketed the significant investment, the team is eager to get started. As one of their primary goals, they listed the introduction of a Bubble Barrier in a city in their native The Netherlands. Each of the major cities in this country boasts some kind of festival or festivity, during which a lot of garbage ends up in the channels - for example during King’s Day or during the Amsterdam GayPride. For 2019, The Great Bubble Barrier is looking to have a Bubble Barrier installed in at least one of these major cities, to lessen the pollution that is an unfortunate side-effect of these otherwise fun events.

After that, the team is looking to expand its activities into Asia - after all, 8 of the 10 most polluting rivers in the world are in this continent. Just imagine the impact that a large number of strategically placed Bubble Barriers would have on the overall plastic soup. 

So, excuse the pun: the promising bubble screen of this start-up will prove to be anything but a smokescreen.

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