This Solar-Powered Barge Is Reducing Ocean Pollution

Solar-powered ocean clean up barge, the Interceptor
The solar-powered Interceptor™. Photo: The Ocean Clean Up.

Plastic pollution has become a huge issue as we enter the third decade of the 21st century. From being the miracle material that revolutionized our economy and society over the past hundred years, to a persistent pollution that threatens even our most remote regions, the time has come to not only limit our use of plastics, but to turn our attention to cleaning up what’s already there, and especially in our rivers, lakes, and oceans. One new solution to the plastic pollution crisis: the classic barge; though this one is solar-powered and equipped with an apparatus to scoop up trash.

Dolphin Swimming in Plastic Pollution

We’ve all seen too many photos of turtles with plastic straws in their noses and seabirds tangled in plastic bags. But as awful as these images are, they still don’t depict how massive the plastic pollution problem is. According to Ocean Conservancy, there are 150 million metric tons of plastic waste in the oceans around the globe, with 8 million more metric tons added every year.

Of course, in an ideal world no plastic would get as far as the water. If human beings could be collectively be consistent about the 3 Rs – reducing, reusing, and – this wouldn’t happen. Efforts are underway around the world solve the plastic crisis, but we have a ways to go in terms of materials innovation and changing behavior.

Innovation can come from anywhere, including the notably un-glamorous barge, a water vessel best known for trudging garbage and other materials up and down waterways. However, there’s a new kind of barge in town…

Enter the Interceptor™! This solar-powered barge was developed by the Dutch nonprofit The Ocean Cleanup to get plastic out of rivers before it reaches the sea. Last fall, the first prototype started patrolling the Klang River in Malaysia.

This video from The Ocean Cleanup features Founder and CEO Boyan Slat giving a demo of the Interceptor:

Much of the plastic and other waste that we see in the ocean gets there from land by way of river systems, with the world’s largest rivers carrying the most trash. It’s estimated that 80% of all plastic waste reaches the ocean from just 1,000 rivers across the globe. This is why a solution for removing trash from rivers is so groundbreaking.

Boyan Slat demos the Interceptor
Boyan Slat demos the Interceptor’s conveyor belt system. Image: The Ocean Clean Up.

One Interceptor barge is can collect up to 50 tons of river garbage per day. The barge utilizes a scoop that’s powered by a conveyor belt. Once it scoops up the trash, it deposits it into dumpsters that are then hauled to waste treatment facilities.

Even better, because the barges are solar-powered, they don’t produce any pollution themselves as they do this dirty work. This also saves money and reduces labor costs. So far, four barges have been built. In addition to the one in Malaysia, the others will go to Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Dominican Republic.

Trash dumpsters on the Interceptor.
Trash dumpsters on the Interceptor. Image: The Ocean Cleanup.

The Ocean Cleanup’s goal is to have an Interceptor™ on every major river, diverting the plastic to recycling facilities or landfills. While other methods will have to be employed to clean up the waste that’s already in the ocean, stopping future waste from ending up there is a step in the right direction.

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