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A bubble barrier against plastic in rivers

Plastic pollution in the oceans is now recognised as a worldwide scourge. Thanks to the mobilisation of ONGs working to preserve maritime areas, we are now all aware of the environmental and societal threats it embodies. There are now 150 million tonnes of plastic in the oceans. If we continue a do-nothing scenario, the oceans will contain 1 tonne of plastic for 3 tonnes of fish by 2025, and by 2050, they could contain more plastic than fish, in weight.

Tackling the problem at source

With what arms can the problem be dealt with? Although initiatives abound for cleaning the seas and oceans, they cannot yet act efficiently against microplastics, which have the greatest impact on marine life, and they do not tackle the problem at source: the production and consumption of plastic on dry land and its transit via rivers. IFGR sounded this warning back in 2017, on the eve of the COP23: 80% of plastic waste comes from runoff and rivers (including 90% by only 10 of the world’s rivers).

Because Earth is our home, and because all waters, fresh and salt, communicate, we must understand that by acting in such a way, we are throwing our waste into the very midst of our living room. Awareness is not enough, action is needed.”

Extract from the IFGR plea published in the French daily business newspaper, Les Echos – 8 December 2017

Bubble curtains to stop plastic waste


Hence the interest of a project like the Great Bubble Barrier  which deploys an ingenious bubble curtain system aimed at stopping plastic waste before its arrival in the oceans. Two perforated pipes through which air circulates are arranged diagonally and placed at the bottom of the water. This creates a curtain of bubbles that blocks the passage of waste carried by the current downstream. The waste trapped at the bottom and at the surface is then directed to the banks of rivers or canals where it can easily be collected, for example, by a conveyor belt. According to its Dutch designers, this system has no significant impact on fish circulation, navigation or the natural functioning of rivers. Its deployment will be facilitated by the fact that it relies on a technology that exists already.

Launched in 2017, this project was first tested in a hydraulics laboratory before the installation of a prototype 200 metres long for 3 weeks in the River IJssel in the Netherlands. The test was conclusive. So, what next? The bubble barriers will be installed permanently in several areas of the Netherlands: cities, industrial zones, locks, ports, etc. at points before waste reaches the North Sea. The second objective, by 2021 is to install this system in several large rivers around the world, especially in Asia.

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