Innovation That Matters

7 Innovations Keeping Plastic Out of Our Oceans

Innovation Snapshot

With World Ocean Day in mind, here are some of our most promising solutions to the plastic waste problem affecting our oceans.

This year’s World Ocean Day will take place on the 8th June, although hundreds of events will take place throughout “Ocean Month”.

A major focus of this year is to raise awareness and support for the global movement to protect at least 30 per cent of the world’s land, water and oceans by 2030.

Springwise has identified many innovations across the world that have the same ambition — to protect our oceans and our world. Take a look at seven of our finest.

Photo source: The Ocean Parabolic Cleaner

1. PARABOLIC FLOATING DEVICE TO COLLECT OCEAN PLASTIC

A team of students at Monash University Malaysia have designed a parabolic floater to collect floating plastic debris on the surface of oceans and rivers. The Ocean Parabolic Cleaner works by pushing water currents to sail around, creating a different velocity to the current of the ocean or river and thus enabling the trapping of the plastic debris.

The device is made up of three parts. An upper part that aerodynamically fits so that it will be pressed down by the wind, decreasing its chance of toppling. The middle part has an opening towards the rear of the device to enable plastic to enter the trapping zone, with a high-density polyethylene net that helps capture microplastics.  The bottom part acts as a kneeboard to slow down its rotation and avoid losing all collected plastic debris due to random motion. 

Read more about The Ocean Parabolic Cleaner.

Photo source: Tobias Tullius on Unsplash

2. APP IS DESIGNED TO TRACK SOURCES OF SEA PLASTIC POLLUTION

An app currently in development at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) determines where shoreline plastic rubbish comes from. The app is intended to be utilised primarily by clean-up crews, although it could also be used by members of the public walking along the shoreline, who will be able to use the app to photograph any plastic waste they notice and enter its GPS coordinates.

A visual database will be accessible in the app, that will identify what the object is. The app also takes into consideration factors such as prevailing currents, tides and weather patterns, so it will be able to determine the approximate oceanic route of the item that led it to end up where it did.

Read more about the tracking app.

Photo source: The SeaCleaners

3. BOAT ACTS AS FLOATING PLASTIC WASTE-DISPOSAL FACTORY

The French ocean explorer and ecologist Yvan Bourgon has designed the Manta – the first factory boat developed to collect and process large quantities of floating macro-plastic waste at sea. The plastic is not only removed from the ocean in the process but is then reused as fuel for the boat.

Every minute, 17 tons of plastic are dumped in the oceans, adding up to between 9 and 12 million tons each year. According to the UN, if ambitious action is not taken, by 2050 the oceans will contain more plastic waste than fish. To combat this, Bourgon’s team have drawn up plans for a 56 metre-long boat that scoops up the waste as it moves through the water.

Read more about the Manta.

Photo source: Lenka Petráková

4. A FLOATING STATION THAT REMOVES PLASTIC WASTE FROM THE SEA

Plastic waste in the ocean is currently one of the world’s most severe pollution problems. In an effort to develop means of solving the problem, Slovak designer Lenka Petràkovà has designed a prototype ocean cleaning facility, which earned her the winning prize in an architectural competition for projects posing creative solutions to environmental challenges. Named the 8th Continent, Petràkovà got the idea for its name from the 1.6 million square metres of debris in the North Pacific, which she suggests could be considered the world’s eighth continent. The ocean station is conceptualised to be self-sufficient and also adapt and benefit from the ocean’s environment.

Made up of interconnected petal-shaped buildings that stand on tentacle-like platforms, these components of the 8th Continent all work together to collect plastic debris from the water surface and transform it into recyclable material. Petràkovà’s prototype also features a research and education centre that studies and showcases marine environments, a greenhouse where plants are grown through hydroponic cultivation, and living facilities for the station’s researchers. Furthermore, the buildings are able to withstand the harsh ocean conditions, as they’re built to allow wind to pass through the station, they can also collect water for irrigation and harness tidal and solar energy.

Read more about the ocean cleaning facility.

Photo source: James Dyson Award

5. DEVICE CAPTURES MICROPLASTICS FROM WATER DURING SAILING

We have been talking a lot about microplastics lately and for good reason. One study estimated there are 15 to 51 trillion particles of them floating on the surface of our oceans, and the particles have been found raining from the sky in otherwise pristine regions. In the ocean, they are eaten by fish and enter the food chain. Now, Italian product designer Matteo Brasili has developed a way for boat owners to remove the microplastics from the seas.

Dubbed “Cloud of Sea”, the device resembles the fenders used by yachts owners, to protect them from bumping into other boats. The Cloud of Sea is designed to hook onto the boat using ropes and contains a rotating, helix-shaped internal filter that captures microplastics from the water.  This filter is made of a semi-rigid membrane with holes that taper inwards, allowing micro-particles to enter, but not leave the filter.

Read more about the “Cloud of Sea”.

Photo source: PlanetCare

6. WASHING MACHINE FILTER CAPTURES MICROPLASTICS

More people seem to be waking up to the problem of microplastics. When clothes made from synthetic fibres are washed, millions of tiny particles of plastic are released into drains, through water treatment plants and out into our rivers, lakes and oceans, where they cause great damage. A Slovenian startup, PlanetCare, has come up with a way to remove microplastics before they go down the drains.

PlanetCare has developed a filter that can be attached to a washing machine, and which can catch around 90 per cent of the fibres shed from clothes. The cartridges need to be changed monthly, and the used ones can be sent back to PlanetCare, which cleans and returns them to customers. PlanetCare has plans to recycle the microplastics it collects in the cartridges, back into the backing material used in car upholstery.

Read more about PlanetCare.

Photo source: Selina Bubendorfer on Unsplash

7. NO-TRACE PLASTIC REDUCES MARINE POLLUTION AND GHOST FISHING

Chemists at the University of Cornell have developed a polymer that degrades quickly in sunlight, but that still maintains the strength of industrial-grade plastics. The aim is to provide a no-trace plastic that can reduce marine pollution and ghost fishing.

Lost or abandoned fishing gear is a major source of the pollution present in the Pacific Garbage Patch. Nets, traps, and trawls are made of industrial-grade plastics, and thus take hundreds of years to degrade, killing marine life in the process.

The new plastic, developed by Cornell University, is called isotactic polypropylene oxide, or iPPO for short. iPPO is similar to nylon-6,6 in sturdiness and its ability to maintain stability under adverse conditions. For this reason, nylon-6,6 is used in fishing nets and ropes. However, unlike nylon-6,6, iPPO can degrade under any conditions with sunlight.

Read more about the degrading polymer and other research.

Written By: Holly Hamilton