Cities around the world have trouble keeping trash out of their rivers, which has inspired some creative solutions to this pollution problem.
Chicago has a remote controlled robot to search out and collect plastic in its river. Kingston, Jamaica, uses nets and barriers to collect trash from its waters. And Sydney, Australia, uses large filters to keep its waterways clean.
But many of these methods for keeping our rivers clear of plastic have problems: Trash-seeking robotic boats and filters generally aren’t as good at collecting waste deep below the surface; while nets and barriers, which can interfere with wildlife and commercial boats, are better for collecting bigger pieces of garbage.
Enter the Great Bubble Barrier, a revolutionary startup that’s piloting a technology of the same name. The Great Bubble Barrier uses — you guessed it — bubbles to collect plastic waste.
Basically, an air compressor pushes bubbles downstream, toward the surface of a river and off to one side, guiding trash into a collection area. This diagonal line of bubbles creates a barrier that doesn’t interfere with boats or animals, but makes sure that plastic below the surface is collected, too. And because the air compressor runs on clean energy, this bubbly technology helps more than just Holland’s waterways.
The Great Bubble Barrier has proven to work really well. One recent test showed that the system of bubbles could help collect almost 90% of all plastic moving throughout a river, trapping even relatively small bits of plastic waste that can be quite harmful to aquatic life.
The startup was created by three women living in the Netherlands, who partnered with a German man who had a similar idea to harness the power of bubbles. The group got a boost when they won a startup competition back in 2019.
This brilliant technological innovation continues to be piloted in the Netherlands. If it performs well, the Great Bubble Barrier will be implemented in other rivers across the world.
The founders of the Great Bubble Barrier acknowledge that this technology is not a substitute for living more sustainable lives or having good waste management systems. But if used together, the bubbles can help us keep our rivers clean and our water swimmable.