A great bubble barrier to stop marine pollution in its tracks

Posted on 13 September 2018.

Most of the plastic waste in the world’s oceans comes from land. The Great Bubble Barrier stops plastic waste from ever reaching the world’s seas and oceans using an ingenious bubble barrier.

Action therefore needs to be taken on terra firma if we want to halt the proliferation of plastic in the world’s oceans.

You may well have heard about the “plastic garbage patches”, these immense expanses of floating plastic waste found in some areas of the oceans. But do you know where this waste, which builds up under the effect of ocean currents, actually comes from? While 10% of waste is dumped directly into the sea, 80% comes from the land.

In most cases, the plastic waste travels down waterways into the sea. The waste crosses farmland, industrial land and urban areas, bringing with it a plethora of debris. That is why a plastic bag dropped at the roadside is highly likely to end up in the ocean one day!

Action therefore needs to be taken on terra firma if we want to halt the proliferation of plastic in the world’s oceans. This is how The Great Bubble Barrier came about: cleaning up rivers, canals and other waterways by using a great wall of bubbles. This Dutch social enterprise was founded in early 2017 by Francis Zoet, Anne Marieke Eveleens and Saskia Studer and wants to focus on the source of the problem.


Thou shall not pass

The idea is quite simple. Air is pumped through a tube with holes located on the bed of the waterway. This creates a curtain of bubbles which blocks the flow of waste being carried by the current.

The Great Bubble Barrier cleverly employs two diagonal barriers and prevents plastic waste from travelling downstream and ultimately spreading across the oceans. The plastic is guided to the banks of the waterway where it can easily be collected, using a conveyor belt, for example.

The advantage of this solution compared with current innovations is that the barrier catches both floating debris and waste at the bottom of the waterway. The Great Bubble Barrier team makes sure that the system does not hinder passing ships or fish.

In May 2017, The Great Bubble Barrier was trialled at the Dutch research institute Deltares. A few months later, the enterprise launched its first full-scale test lasting three weeks on the River IJssel with a 200m bubble barrier. The test showed that the concept worked well in all circumstances.

What’s next? Set up bubble barriers in strategic locations worldwide. According to The Ocean Cleanup, Boyan Slat’s foundation, 67% of plastic in the oceans comes from the top 20 most polluting rivers, mainly located in Asia (86% of plastic pollution comes from Asia). Large bubble barriers located in a handful of these rivers could massively reduce marine pollution.