The bubble barrier that stops garbage before it can reach the sea

The low-fi pollution solution has proven surprisingly effective in the Netherlands. Now, the technology is set to be rolled out elsewhere in Europe
A Dutch startup led by sailors and surfers has devised a way of stopping trash in its tracks – with a little help from bubbles.

The Great Bubble Barrier (GBB) deploys a perforated tube on riverbeds to create a curtain of bubbles which nudges waste to the bank for collection.

And for such a lo-fi method it’s proven remarkably effective, snagging plastic particles as small as 1mm and intercepting as much as 86 percent of flotsam in inland waters before it reaches the sea.

It’s a solution that is sorely needed. Every year, more than 8 million tons of plastic ends up in our oceans, of which 60-80 percent originates in rivers.

The concept was devised by a team of Dutch ocean lovers in 2019. They came up with a design that catches plastic over a river’s full width and depth, and directs it to a catchment system that collects and compresses the waste.

Last summer, GBB’s first bubble barrier was installed in the mouth of the Oude Rijn (Old Rhine) river at Katwijk in the mid-western Netherlands after locals expressed dismay at plastic pollution littering the town’s beach.

The Amsterdam barrier prevents around 8,000 pieces of plastic from reaching the sea each month. Image: GBB

The bubble curtain is created by an air compressor running on renewable electricity, which pumps air to the riverbed tube, laid diagonally across the waterway. The bubbles lift plastics to the surface, and the flow of the river channels waste sideways into a catchment system.

GBB’s method operates 24/7, works regardless of water levels, and allows aquatic life and river traffic to pass unhindered. Another bubble barrier has since been deployed in Amsterdam, and two more are planned for Portugal and Germany.

“Rivers are the highway to our oceans, transporting pollution all the way there,” said Francis Zoet, co-founder of the startup. “Our Amsterdam system is preventing 8,000 pieces of plastic from reaching the North Sea each month. But we don’t plan to stop there: the first international systems are on the agenda, and we can’t wait to tackle pollution across our borders.”

Main image: GBB

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