Every year, two million tons of plastic flow into the ocean from polluted rivers, damaging the environment and threatening marine life and economies around the world. But what if you could stop the trash before it even reaches the sea?
Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch company, is doing just that with the “Interceptor,” a Roomba-like robotic barge that skims plastic waste off the surface of the river as it flows downstream. This houseboat-sized vessel is also 100-percent solar-powered, extracts plastic on its own, and can operate in the world’s most polluted rivers.
The vessel is designed to catch plastic pollution while allowing water to flow through it. It uses the river’s currents to move the debris onto a conveyor belt where it’s sorted into dumpsters. Once full, on-board sensors trigger a text message to local recyclers to come and collect the waste. The dumpsters are removed, emptied, and returned to the hull of the Interceptor to continue its cleanup mission.
On a typical day the device extracts about 50 tons of plastic waste from polluted waters. Ocean Cleanup estimates the Interceptor could collect as much as 100 tons per day depending on the currents, tides, and how much plastic is in a given river.
“Ultimately, we need to move all the way upstream and reduce consumption of unnecessary plastics, and we need to better collect and recycle plastics,” says Nick Mallos of The Ocean Conservancy. “In the meantime, it’s far more efficient to stem the tide of plastic pollution in the rivers rather than trying to tackle it in the middle of the ocean.”
Currently, four first and second-generation ‘Interceptors’ are at work, cleaning rivers in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Dominican Republic.
Their goal is to have a fleet of solar-powered barges cleaning up the world’s one thousand most polluting rivers within five years, all the while cleaning the oceans at the same time.
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