Unesco Green Citizens

The Great Bubble Barrier

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Project begin: 01/03/2017

Saskia Studer has co-created a new technology to fight plastic pollution of rivers and oceans. A barrier of bubbles holds back the plastic, which is then picked up without disturbing our precious biodiversity. The Bubble Barrier is the first in the world which is used to capture plastic. They noticed that local people are always very interested and enjoy being involved. The Bubble Barrier is innovative because it is ship and fish-friendly and the Bubble Barrier reaches the entire width and depth of a river or canal. It helps to keep the local rivers clean as well as the oceans.

The Great Bubble Barrier has developed a technology which can intercept plastic pollution in rivers before it reaches the ocean: The Bubble Barrier, is a bubble curtain with a catchment system. The Bubble Barrier is a curtain made of bubbles that prevent plastics from floating down the river into our oceans. They create a Bubble Barrier by pumping air through a perforated tube on the bottom of the waterway. This bubble curtain creates an upward current which directs the plastics to the surface. The Bubble Barrier is a unique system that catches plastic over the whole width and depth of the river. By placing the Bubble Barrier diagonally in the river, the natural flow of the river will push the plastic waste to the side and into our catchment system. Here it will be retained and can easily be removed from the water by the authorities. A tailored design to local conditions will ensure optimal performance and requires no change in local infrastructure. An additional advantage of the system is that the oxygen level of the water increases, which can benefit the local ecology and restrain algae blooms.

Leading organisation: The Great Bubble Barrier
Covered Countries: Netherlands
Theme: Education for Sustainable Development, Hydrology, Oceans
Sub-themes: Cities, Ocean education, Protecting marine ecosystems, Urban areas, Waste management, Waste management, Water sanitation, Water science
Selection: 2020
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Initial Problem

The plastic problem has been gaining a lot of attention, but the problem is far from solved. A lot of habits are still in place and need to be contested to evoke positive change. The fact that the rivers function as plastic-highways demonstrates the urgent need for a measure which stops plastics without obstructing daily river activities. Plastic pollution is a major threat to both people and the environment, and the problem is currently growing day by day. Every year, 8 million tons of plastic pollution ends up in our oceans of which 60-80% travels via rivers and canals. Plastics are found throughout the entire ecosystem and food chain. Plastic has already been found in fish, honey, beer and drinking water.

The positive impacts that the project has made:

The Great Bubble Barrier was founded in early 2017. The first proof of concept was conducted in Berlin with a Bubble Barrier of a length of 10 meters. The Bubble Barrier was then extensively tested in the water laboratory of Deltares. During the first pilot in November 2017, a 180 meters long Bubble Barrier in the river IJssel showed that the Bubble Barrier was capable of catching 86% of the test material. After this successful pilot, The Great Bubble Barrier joined a research project to assess the impact of the Bubble Barrier on microplastics with a size of 0.02 to 0.5 mm.

The first long-term Bubble Barrier in the world was placed in November 2019 in one of Amsterdam’s canals.

 

The impacted areas and population:

Their goal is to clean the local waterways in their city or region and protect the global ecosystem from plastic pollution. For now, The Great Bubble Barrier has impacted Amsterdam’s canals, where its system was first tested in November 2019. However, this project could be duplicated in any area of the world and could help solve the problem of plastic pollution in numerous rivers worldwide.

The obstacles and challenges

Since the plastic-problem is multi-faceted, it is hard to define who is to blame. This leaves a lot of stakeholders taking a passive stance towards addressing this problem. The severe impact of plastic on the environment leaves its mark on the land and in the water. They have yet to discover the ecological impact of the non-degradable plastics.

However, they can wait for this and act reactively. They seek the pioneers who want to address this problem instead of looking away, denying their part in this problem. By addressing this problem locally, they will set a new standard for the residents. They believe that confronting people with the caught plastic waste can help to evoke a behavioral change that is pervasive and sustainable. The end-users are not only trying to reduce their ecological footprint and achieve a clean environment for local residents but also take the lead in a global movement that addresses the plastic problem effectively.

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