How floating trash cans can clean up our dying oceans

  • Seabin project is a clean tech startup with an ambitious mission to help solve the global problem of marine plastic pollution and ocean conservation.
  • Their commercial product acts as a floating trash can, catching trash, oil, fuel, and cleaning supplies.

“Trash cans on land, why not in the water?”

That thought gave birth to the Seabin project, which installs floating “seabins” to skim plastic and other debris from harbor waters before they can reach the ocean.

Andrew Turton and Pete Ceglinski, who describe themselves as avid water lovers, started the project in Australia back in 2015 and now have a mission to clean up 100 cities by 2050.

“When I started Seabin, I only focused on the symptom of the problem, which was plastic pollution and disposal. As I learned more about this global problem through personal and professional development, I understood that the true solution to all man-made problems is education,” says CEO and co-founder Pete Ceglinski.

“If we were a little smarter, we wouldn’t have plastic pollution and we wouldn’t need smart technology from Seabin. So I invested in building data, science, education and prevention problems and providing innovative technologies to clean up.

We use the expression: turn off the faucet while cleaning up.”

How serious is the problem?

Our dependence on single-use plastics has contributed to massive environmental, social, economic and health challenges that have resulted in our planet choking on plastic.

Plastic, once in the environment, is difficult to clean. It is durable and easily snags on its surroundings. Remaining in the environment for over 500 years, it slowly breaks down into microplastics that move freely through water and air. Plastic is then ingested by people, fish, turtles or birds, and sometimes animals get caught in it and die.

Chart showing the increase in global plastics production, measured in tons per year, from 1950 to 2015. Image: Our world in data; Geyer R, Jambeck JR & Law KL (2017). Production, uses and fate of all plastics ever made. Scientific Advances, 3(7), e1700782.

The Seabin project team understood that human overconsumption and improper waste management were killing our oceans. Their trial and error approach resulted in a commercial product that acts as a floating trash can, catching trash, oil, fuel and cleaning supplies.

“We’re now in 6.0 (next-gen technology), which includes smart technology, water sensors, and a modem for cloud-based or IoT connectivity,” says Pete.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Plastic Action Partnership is advancing national solutions for a circular plastic economy, with the broader goal of eliminating plastic pollution. Poonam Watine, knowledge specialist at the Global Plastic Action Partnership, believes projects like the Seabin can prove to be a significant step in the right direction. “Innovative solutions are critical to curbing and preventing plastic pollution,” she says.

“Influential and inspirational trailblazers like Seabin offer a glimmer of hope for alternative solutions to the looming plastic crisis.”

Clean up rivers to protect the ocean

Several companies have sprung up to tackle the problem at the source. They bring low-tech but innovative solutions that are already making a big difference.

plastic fishermanfor example, uses a low-tech, low-cost device called “TrashBoom” — a floating barrage strung across a river to capture plastic waste as the current carries it downstream.

The Plastic Fischer team teamed up with the National Army in Bandung, Indonesia to develop and test the TrashBoom on one of the most polluted rivers in the world.

Another company that is coming up with an innovative way of thinking about the problem of plastic waste in the ocean is Finland RiverRecycle. The company aims to install 500 cleaning and recycling points on the rivers that dump most plastic pollution into the ocean. Their projects include a plant on the Mithi River in Mumbai, India.

“The ultimate goal is to completely eliminate the need for Seabins”

The Seabin project is accelerating its global expansion with the 100 Cities by 2050 campaign, choosing Marina Del Rey in Los Angeles as the second city after Sydney, Australia.

The team believes that the world’s marinas and ports are the perfect places to start cleaning up our oceans. “As there are no large waves in the marinas or storms in the open sea, these relatively controlled environments provide the perfect locations for Seabin installations,” the project states.

The Seabin Project team believes that the world’s marinas, ports and yacht clubs are the perfect places to start cleaning up our oceans. Image: Seabin project

Data estimates suggest that with each Seabin, their technology allows them to capture 90,000 plastic bags each year — all for less than $1 a day. The collected waste is recycled or taken to a waste disposal facility.

With Marina Del Rey’s pilot, the team expects to eliminate an estimated 54 tons of microplastics, plastic fibers and other items over a three-year period. In addition, up to five full-time positions are to be created.

The project has moved away from sales, instead leasing services and hardware. It maintains its primary goal of completely eliminating the need for seabins.

“The current climate crisis is bad, but as a perpetual optimist, I believe we can fix it, or at least do our best to learn from our mistakes,” says Pete.

“I’m excited that Seabin is playing an active role in solutions, education, awareness and prevention initiatives because it creates an empowered generation that buys with meaning and makes better life choices based on environmental impact and human rights.

About Thelma Wilt

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