From aquatic drones to AI beach buggies and enzymes that ‘eat’ polyester

The solutions being developed to clean up the 199 MILLION tonnes of plastic littering our oceans

  • Scientists and engineers are working to find solutions to the global problem of ocean plastic
  • Technologies like seabins, plastic interceptors and aquatic drones are currently being utilised
  • Plastic-eating enzymes, microbe nets and magnetic liquids are being scaled up, but show promise
  • MailOnline looks at how else we are working to remove rubbish from our oceans and rivers

Plastic waste is being discovered in increasingly remote locations around the world, from fresh Antarctic snow to the mountain air above the Pyrenees.

According to the World Economic Forum, between 75 and 199 million tons of plastic are currently in our oceans.

This ranges from large floating debris to microplastics, which form as the bigger pieces of waste break down.

As a result, scientists and engineers are working hard to find new solutions to the global problem of plastic pollution.

These include aquatic drones that can be programmed to scoop up floating debris from the surface of rivers, and buggies that use artificial intelligence (AI) to search for and pick up litter for use on beaches.

Scientists are also hoping to scale up the use of magnetic nano-scale springs that hook on to microplastics and break them down.

MailOnline takes a closer a look at some of the technologies currently being used to reduce the man-made debris in our oceans, and those that are still in development.

MailOnline takes a closer look at ten new technologies that are helping to remove man-made garbage from Earth's oceans, including plastic-eating enzymes and marine drones

MailOnline takes a closer look at ten new technologies that are helping to remove man-made garbage from Earth’s oceans, including plastic-eating enzymes and marine drones

According to the World Economic Forum, between 75 and 199 million tons of plastic are currently floating in our oceans, with millions of tons more dumped every year

According to the World Economic Forum, between 75 and 199 million tons of plastic are currently floating in our oceans, with millions of tons more dumped every year

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How technology can help clean water for resilient cities

Article by NLPlatform

How can we tackle the challenges of too much, too little and too dirty water. Many water challenges are man-made and can only be tackled collectively. This is why we want to take action on World Cleanup Day 18 September, with our NL Waterway Cleanup which we are organising with embassies worldwide.


It may seem like a drop in the ocean, but around the world millions of people will participate in local cleanups both on their own and in groups, on and off the water, on beaches and river banks, in parks and streets. The power of together means that each and every one of us has impact. With this event we hope to create awareness because in order to maintain the planet as we know it, we have to take action, not only to prevent litter ending up in the water, but also to clean up waters which are already polluted. And that is where technology can help.

In the 1960s and 70s, Dutch waterways suffered from fish mortality, bad odours and polluted lake beds, riverbeds and sea beds. Since then, the Dutch water authorities have introduced various innovative drinking water and wastewater treatment techniques. As a result, this has led to a chlorine-free drinking water. While all domestic wastewater is treated in one of the Netherlands’ 350 sewage plants, commercial wastewater is often pre-purified by the discharging companies themselves before being sent to the sewage plants.

Sharing enabling technologies

The Netherlands is eager to share its innovations to accelerate solving challenges for cleaner waters, by sharing enabling technologies for cleaning wastewater. Not least because at present 80percent of wastewater worldwide is released into the environment without adequate treatment. In fact, 95 percent of the water we use is thrown away. Indian water technology firm Aquarius H2O Dynamics recently applied nanofiltration techniques developed by Dutch company NX filtration to remove dye from wastewater in the textile industry. This enables 95 percent of the wastewater to be recycled without intensive pre-treatment.

The Netherlands continues to invest in water technology by connecting business, knowledge and government. A great example is Wetsus, supported by 100 companies 23 universities and running 60 projects. The Netherlands Wetsus institute hails as a centre of excellence for sustainable water technology. Wetsus is part of the WaterCampus located in Leeuwaarden in the North of the Netherlands, where water technology companies are encouraged to collaborate with water technology institutes from all over the world. By combining their strengths and sharing knowledge Wetsus makes no attempt to conceal its ambition to become an international hub of water excellence. Zero-emissions, mineral recovery, and reducing energy use are at the heart of the institute’s research which includes groundwater technology, smart water grids, resource recovery, advanced wastewater technology and desalination amongst other things.

Innovative solutions to clean up litter

Eight billion tonnes of plastic litter enters our oceans every year. That is a lorry-load every minute. As well as being unsightly on our beaches, marine debris adversely affects the fishing and tourist industries, costing jobs, reducing local revenues and damaging ships. Every year marine debris costs the international community over 60 billion euros in clearing, repairing and losses. In the Netherlands alone collecting marine debris costs more than 10 million euros. The EU fishing industry faces an annual bill of 65 million euros thanks to plastic soup; and damage to shipping vessels also runs into the millions. Simple but effective interventions can turn the tide on plastic pollution in our waterways, preventing the accumulation of plastic soup in our oceans.

While some innovations prevent plastic pollution, others tackle it after it has already entered the waterways. There are innovative solutions like The Great Bubble Barrier, which simply pumps air bubbles through a perforated tube lying on the river bed. The bubbles block plastics flowing downstream and guides them to the surface and towards the riverbanks where it can be collected easily in a catchment system. While acting as a screen against plastic pollution the bubble barrier does not disturb marine life. Nor does it interfere with vessels on the waterways. However, the bubbles do reduce noise pollution, as it cuts down the sound of shipping traffic. The Great Bubble Barrier technology has been implemented in the river IJssel and in Amsterdam’s waterways. The catch of Bubble Barrier Amsterdam is currently being analysed by the Plastic Soup Foundation.

Artificial Intelligence

High tech solutions include the WasteShark by Ranmarine, which combines artificial intelligence with autonomous surface vessel (ASV) technology. The compact device is the first of its kind able to fish up marine debris in urban harbours or waterways and safely deposit it in a larger SharkPod to be disposed of. As it uses AI, the WasteShark learns from experience, thus increasing its efficiency and speed. It is also small and agile enough to get into the corners of any harbour or waterway.

Dutch water and subsurface consultancy Deltares, has the technology to monitor waste streams and prevent them from finding their way into waterways leading to the oceans. By creating various scenarios through models the consultancy can demonstrate the effectiveness of interventions which prevent waste at source. This better informs government decision-makers to help them intervene efficiently. In the European MICRO project, Deltares’ transport models predicting the accumulation of plastic particles in marine waters and sediment. This makes it possible to measure the impact on the tourism, the economy and nature.  Deltares is also developing models for the European CleanSea project, and is involved in waste stream monitoring in Indonesia.

Boyan Slat’s Ocean Cleanup uses Deltares’ marine model of coastal waters off the Japanese island of Tsushima to tackle the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This cleanup organisation has also implemented its interceptor technology to prevent plastic waste from the world’s worst polluting rivers reaching the ocean. And by recycling the plastics recovered from the ocean, Ocean Cleanup is creating value from waste products.

Cost of marine debris

Civil engineers from Delft University of Technology have developed the Fleet Cleaner, robotic technology, which fixes itself to a ship’s hull using powerful magnets. This innovative gadget cleans the hulls of ships using high-pressure water jets, capturing fouling as it goes. The system has a filter system which removes fouling releasing clean water back into the sea, earning it the Maritime Innovation Award in 2018. Cleaning a ship’s hull increases fuel efficiency by up to 10 percent, reducing fuel consumption and harmful emissions. It also helps collect the waste particles that otherwise would end up in the ocean. As it filters out all impurities, Fleet Cleaner can be used in port. As no human divers are required, cleaning can take place during loading and unloading.

Inspired by the Water as Leverage programme, we have initiated the NL Waterway Cleanup. Simply by joining us and millions of others on World Cleanup Day, we can make a difference, raise awareness and prevent plastic litter on land from becoming plastic soup in the oceans.

Join us on World Cleanup Day 18 September and help us turn waterways back into healthy lifelines between cities and oceans. Organising an NL Waterway Cleanup yourself? Put your own cleanup on our NL Waterway Cleanup map now and contact us at info@nlbranding.nl for the event kit full of tips and tricks.



A Drone Army Is Rising Against Ocean Plastics

Solutions to remove garbage from the sea have boomed in past years, but a lot more is needed to end plastic pollution


The garbage-collecting BeachBot rover during a demonstration at a beach in the Netherlands.

The garbage-collecting BeachBot rover during a demonstration at a beach in the Netherlands. Source: TechTics/Project.BB

Floating drones inspired by whale sharks and four-wheeled robots that resemble the Mars rover are among the latest inventions designed to remove litter from the oceans.

The number of tools to monitor, prevent and clean up ocean pollution has grown almost exponentially over the past four years, according to a paper published in Nature Sustainability. The research, led by biologist Nikoleta Bellou at the Institute of Coastal Research Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon, is the most comprehensive analysis of sea-cleaning solutions to date.

“Unfortunately more focus at a policy level is being given to banning single-use plastics,” Bellou said. “But we already have polluted the oceans and we need to do something to retrieve that, simultaneously to all the actions needed to reduce pollution at the source.”

Chemicals, fossil fuels and plastics are present in all of the world’s oceans and have been found both at the surface and at the bottom of the seas. Marine litter threatens the survival of wildlife such as seabirds, whales, fishes and turtles because they can get tangled in it or confuse it with food. Tiny pieces of plastic known as microplastics can make their way up the food chain, eventually ending up in human bodies.

relates to A Drone Army Is Rising Against Ocean Plastics
MAPP bot has been designed to detect small pieces of garbage in beaches.  Source: TechTics/Project.BB

As many as 91 million metric tons of litter entered the oceans between 1990 and 2015, as much as 87% of which was plastic, according to the research. An estimated 5.25 trillion particles of litter are currently floating in the oceans.

While the impacts of polluting the seas were reasonably understood by the end of the 1980s, it wasn’t until 2016 that solutions to address the problem really took off. Of the 177 methods analyzed by Bellou and her colleagues, 73% were only developed in the past four years. Most approaches so far address monitoring, with only 30 aimed at clean up, the research found. Most focus on large litter floating on the surface, meaning microplastics at the bottom of the sea remain an unresolved issue.

Funding soared in 2014 after the European Union launched research programs such as the nearly 80 billion-euro ($97 billion) Horizon2020 initiative. About half of the ocean projects available today were government-funded, while a third were paid for through collaborations between nonprofit organizations, the public and companies, according to the paper.

The new research, which doesn’t reveal which specific projects Bellou and her team analyzed, points to a wide range of inventions—and the challenges of scaling them up.

relates to A Drone Army Is Rising Against Ocean PlasticsRanMarine’s WasteShark collects litter floating on the surface of rivers and canals.
Source: RanMarine

Solutions invented over the past few years include sea garbage bins, giant plastic-collecting barriers and a marine drone that collects floating garbage through a wide opening that mimics the mouths of whale sharks.

There’s also BeachBot, a garbage-collecting rover that picks up small litter like cigarette butts, single-use cutlery or plastic bottle caps from beaches. Creators Martijn Lukaart and Edwin Bos sought the help of students at University of Technology Delft in the Netherlands to develop an algorithm which teaches the robot to distinguish between types of trash.

“It’s nice to develop a robot solution, but that’s not the solution to the wider problem,” Bos said. “Behavior needs to change and our goal is to make people interact and engage with the robot to make it smarter, but also to learn about the impact of litter themselves.”

A BeachBot prototype has been deployed in several locations in the Netherlands and the two entrepreneurs say they’re ready to move toward launching the product. The next challenge is to find the right business model to ensure BeachBot doesn’t just clean, but also educates the public and changes behaviors.

Despite recent efforts, a lot more will be needed to make a dent in ocean plastic pollution, Bellou’s paper concluded. Plastic production and waste accumulates faster than the inventions to reduce it. By some calculations, it would take about a century to remove 5% of plastics currently in the oceans using only clean-up devices.

Article by Bloomberg Green