Plastic waste capture in rivers: An inventory of current technologies
Rivers serve as a major conduit of pollution, including plastic waste, into the oceans. An estimated 19 to 23 million metric tons (Mt) of plastic waste enter aquatic ecosystems (rivers, lakes, and oceans) every year, with between 0.8 and 2.7 Mt entering the oceans from rivers. The key role that rivers play in carrying waste from land to sea provides a strategic opportunity to turn off the tap of plastic waste into the oceans.
This paper offers an inventory of several prominent river plastic waste collection technologies operating in different river systems around the world. These range from passive devices such as booms, traps, and barriers that rely on river currents to concentrate debris, to integrated powered systems that actively capture or concentrate debris at high-volume sites such as the Trash Wheel, the Bubble Carrier, and skimmer vessels. Several factors are considered in each technology profile, including technological characteristics (configuration, dimensions, maintenance requirements), cost, impact on the environment, and examples of applications. The information presented in this paper came from Benioff Ocean Initiative’s experience leading the Clean Currents Coalition, a global network of organizations piloting different technologies for capturing plastic waste in rivers; direct correspondence with technology developers; and internet research. As the Clean Currents Coalition program is ongoing and as we continue to learn more about strategies for capturing and preventing plastic waste in rivers and the oceans, we hope to continue to share more lessons learned.
The goal of this paper is to deliver an instructive and actionable tool to practitioners who wish to use technology to join the great global challenge of cleaning plastic waste from our rivers, and ultimately oceans. The authors recognize that capturing and cleaning up plastic waste is only one piece of a comprehensive strategy needed to prevent its leakage into the oceans, and wholeheartedly support efforts also aimed at policy change, reduction of production, consumer education and behavior change, and improved waste management capacity and technology.
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