Jack Bates, of Osprey Initiative, collects trash that was captured by the company’s Litter Gitter, which catches trash in waterways in nine states before it can travel into larger bodies of water, in New Orleans, Friday, May 27, 2022. Many novel devices are being used or tested worldwide to trap plastic trash in rivers and smaller streams before it can get into the ocean. Photograph:( AP )
More than 40 have been sold to buyers in a dozen countries including the UK, US, Nigeria and Singapore, according to the developers
Meet the WasteShark, a boxy 5 foot, 2 inch long (157 centimeter) aquatic drone, hoovering up plastic waste in a pond in Rotterdam. Richard Hardiman, Founder and CEO of Ranmarine explains the mission.
"So we wanted it to be as easy to deploy as possible, as easy to capture the trash and bring it back to land, make it safer so that the operator is stood on the shore rather than was in the water, make it battery operated, so it was zero emissions, not diesel or fossil fuel powered. And it was easy to store away. A lot of the time our customers have bigger boats that need a captain and a lot of maintenance and a lot of mechanical movement to make them work. We wanted something very sleek, very simple, gets the trash out and starts recycling faster than what has been done right now."
The drone's hold can accommodate 42 gallons (160 liters) of trash, floating plants and algae, according to RanMarine Technology. It can operate up to eight hours on one charge.
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It's inspired by the whale shark, which swims the ocean with its mouth wide open.
"The WasteShark was based on the whale shark, which has a large mouth for capturing its prey. So that's why we have two pontoons, one on each side, so that the waste can come in from the front and it gets trapped in between the pontoons," explains design engineer Tessa Despinic.
More than 40 have been sold to buyers in a dozen countries including the UK, US, Nigeria and Singapore, according to the developers.
Prices start at 23,500 euros (about $25,600) for manually controlled models, more for programmable versions.
The WasteShark is just one of numerous technologies that have been developed to help reduce the problem of plastic waste in rivers and oceans.
Trash is blown, washed or thrown into waterways.
Storm drains funnel in litter tossed onto streets.
In places without refuse collection, people use convenient waters to carry trash away.
Nancy Wallace, director of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Debris Program, says it's important to try and prevent the plastic waste ending up in the oceans.
"Once plastic or trash ends up in the ocean, it's very hard to collect because it does break down. And so it gets smaller and smaller and it's just hard to get out to our big open oceans and collect the trash there. We'd much rather collect that trash closer to shore, which is easier, it's less costly," she says.
Also in the Netherlands, the Bubble Barrier Amsterdam devicesits across a river, at the intersection of several canals.
It's a simple system invented by a Dutch company which pumps compressed air into a submerged tube with thousands of tiny holes in it.
The escaping air from the holes form a curtain of bubbles that you see on the water's surface.
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These bubbles steer the waste floating on the water as well as rubbish suspended midstream into a collection point moored at one bank.
The tube is set diagonally to direct trash to a rectangular collecting device near the shore.
In India, steel mesh fences that extend above and below aluminium floats have been installed.
The system is modular, inexpensive, easy to maintain and able to withstand monsoons.
AlphaMERS Ltd. has installed the big floating barriers across rivers at eight southern cities from Hyderabad to Tuticorin.
Each is angled to guide trash to a riverbank where excavators pile it into dump trucks.
Eight traps on the Cooum River at Chennai, costing about $120,000 in total, corralled about 2,400 tons (2,200 metric tons) of plastics and 21,800 tons (19,800 metric tons) of other trash and floating plants in 2018, their first year in position, according to the designer D.C. Sekhar.
The system with the biggest fan base may be the anthropomorphized Trash Wheels at the mouths of four Baltimore watersheds.
The devices combine ancient and modern technology to run rakes and a conveyor belt that moves floating trash into barge-mounted dumpsters.
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The current usually turns a water wheel for power.
When the current slows, a solar-powered water pump spins the wheel.
Osprey Initiative LLC, of Mobile, Alabama, sets up floating traps on creeks, canals and rivers in the US Southeast and trains local crews to deal with the trash they catch.
The company employs about 10 people full-time, with about 30 part-time local workers at projects across nine states, according to owner and founder Don Bates.
It is also helping to change habits in the local community.
"So in the five years since we started, it's amazing the change in our personal footprints and how we are protecting what's downstream. So the products that are out there are becoming more and more recyclable, we love recycling because if it's recycled, it's not becoming litter. So, the awareness, what we're doing and being smart about it, people are really bringing that home. And the best way to fight litter and litter in the water is it never becoming litter on the land," says Don Bates, owner of Osprey Initiative.
The science of plastic pollution is new and almost as much in flux as the waters it studies.
For instance, a scientist who reported in 2017 that rivers might carry anywhere from 450,000 to 4.4 million tons (410,000 to 4 million metric tons) of plastic a year into the sea was part of a 2021 study that narrowed the range considerably, with an upper limit of nearly 3 million tons (2.7 million metric tons).
The devices are fledgling attempts to dent an estimated 8.8 million tons (8 metric tons) of plastic that enter the ocean every year.
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Once there, the waste maims or kills marine plants and animals including whales, dolphins, and seabirds and accumulates in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and other vast swirls of currents.
Wallace says we need to reduce plastic use and littering in the first to make a real difference to the health of our rivers and oceans.
"The most important thing with marine debris or plastic or trash in our ocean is we don't want it there in the first place. So while all of these devices are incredibly helpful, we really need to work on the upstream solutions of generating less waste from the consumer standpoint, but also the industry standpoint. And so there's a lot of different players that are going to help solve this problem overall."
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