World / Science & Health

Amsterdam trials 'bubble barrier' to clean river of plastic waste

Reuters

Amsterdam is trying out a “bubble barrier” to help remove plastic from the city’s canals by capturing trash hidden beneath the surface of the water.

Although the project, launched in November, is just a small-scale test right now, the startup behind it hopes it could be deployed elsewhere, if successful.

“A bubble barrier is basically a tube that we place on the bottom of the river or canal that has holes in it, and we press air through it; that creates a bubble curtain,” said Francis Zoet, the Great Bubble Barrier project’s technical director.

Because the tube lies diagonally across the canal, the bubbles work with the flow of water in the canal to float the waste to the surface and then shuttle it into a collector on the side.

Bubbles do not interfere with passing boats and do not pose a major obstacle for fish or birds.

While Amsterdam already has four boats that collect around 42,000 kilograms of plastic a year, the boats can only pick up the rubbish on the surface, and some smaller pieces are missed altogether.

“What people don’t realize is that every piece of plastic which falls into the water in the canals is eventually flowing out to the North Sea. We want to prevent that,” said Roy Leysner of Waternet, part of the local water authority, which is funding the project together with the City of Amsterdam.

Rivers are a major conduit of plastic pollution into the world’s oceans, carrying up to 4 million metric tons of plastic to the sea each year, according to estimates by the Hemholtz Center for Environmental Research in Germany.

A Dutch nonprofit has also launched a system to collect surface river trash using floating barriers.

Zoet of the Amsterdam bubble project said the two concepts are complementary. “We support basically every initiative that is focused on reducing the plastic soup,” she said.