Updated: Oct 26, 2020
By Julia Loritz
Image via The Great Bubble Barrier
According to Britannica, scientists recorded sightings of plastic pollution in the ocean for the very first time in the late 1960s. Now, several “plastic islands” continue to grow in size exponentially each year. A report from ABC News states that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, by far the most notable plastic island, now boasts a mass three times the size of France. Environmentalists have worked tirelessly in past decades to counteract the imposing plastic footprint fueled by corporate giants and blind consumerism. Now, in the Netherlands, a contemporary solution called the Great Bubble Barrier has the potential to raise hopes once again—and it’s already blooming in popularity.
The Great Bubble Barrier is a relatively recent approach to the plastic problem, originating in the north of Amsterdam. It was first introduced into the Amsterdam canal in November 2019, marking the city as a trailblazer of the global fight against plastic pollution. The apparatus not only stops 70-80% of plastic in the waterway from reaching the oceans, but it also provides an opportunity to sort, recycle and dispose of litter in the proper fashion. Other industries have taken advantage of similar technology in the past; it aids in cleaning up oil spills and captures loose sediment produced by dredging operations. The GBB team looks to utilize it in a new way.
The intricate network is actually quite simple to construct. At the bottom of the waterway, the Dutch team implants a PVC tube with several holes along the outside. A compressor pumps air through the tube, which escapes through the holes. This creates a curtain of bubbles. The resultant upward thrust caused by the bubbles traps plastic circulating through the canal and pushes it towards the surface. The crew’s placement of the tube diagonally across the channel tactfully uses the natural current to guide waste towards the collection den built into the existing infrastructure of the area.
Ultimately, the system meets all the important requirements to remain in use. Fish can pass through with no disturbance. In fact, they benefit from the increased level of dissolved oxygen in the water. As for the human occupation of the canal, the barrier does not impede or disrupt boat traffic or the overall functionality of the delta, nor does it require much upkeep being that the GBB team designed it for easy incorporation into the original architecture.
The start-up looks forward to a future with reduced plastic pollution in accordance with their goals as industry pioneers: educating the public, removing waste responsibly, investigating data at the source, and advocating for a shift in plastic production to a cycle heavily based in recycling. Soon, they hope to place bubble barriers in urban areas around the world, particularly industrial parts of Asia. As the idea sprawls, it will welcome new jobs to compensate for installment and waste recovery—not to mention opportunities for young professionals and experienced advisors. Local governments also save funding for manual removal to repurpose into other priorities.
Water pollution will continue to worsen if nothing is done to hinder the root of the problem. Luckily, project initiatives like the Great Bubble Barrier can drastically improve the current situation. To do so, however, they need a steady support system from the public. Passionate individuals will be the change that the world needs.
Written by writer Julia Lortiz