Can air bubbles stop plastic waste?

The Great Bubble Barrier is a new tech device that uses streams of air to catch plastic, while leaving fish free to roam
The Great Bubble Barrier is designed to be spread across the entire width of a harbour or river. (Great Bubble Barrier/Instagram)

Plastic waste is an enormous problem. Just as enormous? The question of how to fix this problem.

The truth is, there is no single solution to a problem like this. A problem this large requires multiple solutions, used together. Some approaches—like Ocean Cleanup—are about gathering plastic waste that is in the ocean already. Others are about reducing how much plastic we use and throw away in the first place.

Then there are solutions that are somewhere in the middle. Trying to catch the plastic that has already been thrown away into rivers and harbours before it reaches the ocean.

That's the goal of a Dutch invention called the Great Bubble Barrier, a device that stops plastic with bubbles!

Air to the rescue

A curtain of bubbles is surprisingly effective at catching waste. (Great Bubble Barrier/Instagram)

The idea behind the Great Bubble Barrier is very simple. A long plastic tube is laid across the bottom of a river. This tube is covered with thousands of small holes. Air is then pumped into the tube. As that air escapes through the holes, it releases a steady curtain of bubbles up to the surface.

Any waste that is floating in the river will then be caught by the bubbles. Even waste near the bottom of the river is pumped up toward the surface when it hits the barrier. Finally, the barrier is placed at an angle. This is so between the natural flow of the river and the bubbles themselves, waste will be gradually pushed towards a collection area. All that people need to do is empty the area every once in a while and bingo! Waste is stopped from reaching the open sea!

Everything else can proceed as normal

There are a lot of very appealing things about the Great Bubble Barrier. It can run 24 hours and doesn't require much supervision. It also doesn't really disrupt the normal flow of the river system, which is really crucial. Because whether its fish or ships, a lot of these areas are also home to a lot of traffic!

For example, putting up an actual physical barrier across the mouth of a river or harbour—like a net—would never work. Sure, it would catch garbage, but it would also stop everything else! A barrier of bubbles, however, is something that fish and other wildlife can swim through no problem. Same with boats.

So far, this system has been used in a few European harbours and rivers and is having great success. The inventors goals are to bring it to places like China, which is home to some of the most polluted rivers in the world.

Get a closer look at this simple, but brilliant idea in the video below. Go bubbles!

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