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As plastic debris continues to amass at alarming rates in the ocean, the demand for effective and long-term cleanup solutions has never been greater. It is crucial to develop and deploy systems that either prevent plastics from entering waterways or collect plastic waste in the ocean and rivers. However, there have been limited reports on the technologies available. It is therefore difficult for policy makers, entrepreneurs, and academics to reach a consensus in relation to the state of current technology to address this global issue.

This article will list some of the technologies currently used or in development to prevent plastic from leaking, or collecting existing plastic pollution. We aim to facilitate comparisons between the various solutions and assist in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of current technological approaches.

Facts and figures on marine plastic pollution

Since the popularization of plastics in 1950, about 7,800 million metric tons (MMT) of plastic resin and fibers have been produced. Annual plastic output has surpassed the aggregate weight of the human population by 2015, and 150 MMT of plastic was predicted to be circulating in the marine environment in 2016 (World Economic Forum, 2016). Furthermore, researchers anticipate that up to 10% of all plastic garbage created will end up in the ocean, and that by 2050, plastics in the ocean will outweigh fish.

Plastic waste makes up 80% of all marine pollution and around 8 to 10 million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year. Currently, there are about 50-75 trillion pieces of plastic and microplastics in the ocean. Today, plastic production and its usage is at peak, but the data on recycling are not at all promising: only about 10% of the plastic we produce is currently recycled. The rest is either incinerated, causing air pollution, or it ends up in our oceans and environment.

Viable solutions to stop marine plastic pollution

Both for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations (NGOs) are working to lessen the detrimental effects of plastic pollution in the environment by creating innovative methods to repair it. These cutting-edge strategies concentrate on various phases of the plastic life cycle, including manufacture, consumption, and trash removal. The trash which consists of mainly plastic bottles, straws, and single bags are then segregated and sent back to companies for recycling.

Approximately 80% of marine plastic pollution comes from land-based sources. Littering and inappropriate waste management in open or uncontrolled landfills, for example, can cause the plastic to be lost in the environment and transferred to the oceans by rivers, winds, and tides. Microplastics can enter the ecosystem through wastewater, storms, and natural disasters, which can bring a variety of pollutants into the oceans. The technologies being developed to solve these concerns are aimed at either avoiding plastic leakage into rivers or collecting current plastic pollution. 

Image source: Science Direct

The Ocean Cleanup System

The Ocean Cleanup is a non-profit organization developing and scaling technologies to rid the oceans of plastic. To achieve this objective, they work on a combination of closing the source and cleaning up what has already accumulated in the ocean.

The NGO is developing cleanup systems that can clean up the floating plastics caught swirling in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. An 800 metre-long barrier is towed through the ocean by two very slow-moving boats. This barrier is 3 metres deep, and is completely open at the bottom to allow fish to escape. Floatation devices are connected at the top so that it keeps its shape, and as it moves through the water, it collects any plastic debris that is present. This plastic is then sorted, and returned to land to be recycled. It has also developed the first scalable solution to efficiently intercept plastic in rivers before it reaches the oceans. By tackling 1000 rivers around the world, they aim to halt 80% of riverine plastic from entering the oceans in five years from rollout.

Image source: The Ocean Cleanup

The TrashTrap

TrashTrap netting systems combine the natural energy of water flow with disposable mesh nets to capture and remove trash, floatables and solids from stormwater and wastewater. As the diagrams below illustrate, structures are set up at strategic points in rivers to act as stormwater and wastewater filters, and the river currents carry the plastic debris to the filters, where it can be removed from the water. Less maintenance is required because nets can accommodate a larger volume of material, and do not need mechanical devices to remove blockages. 

Image source: StormTrap

The GoJelly project

Image source: GoJelly

The increase in the number of jellyfish in the ocean is a tangible consequence of climate change. That is why the HORIZON 2020 project GoJelly, funded by the European Union, has set itself the task of seeing jellyfish not as a problem, but as part of the solution.

Researchers are working on a gelatinous solution to microplastic pollution by developing a TRL 5-6 prototype microplastics filter made of jellyfish mucus. Jellyfish mucus (secreted when they reproduce or become stressed) captures and binds to nano-sized particles, removing microplastics from wastewater. They will therefore address two environmental issues: commercially and ecologically destructive sea and coastal pollution of both jellyfish and microplastics.

Jellyfish can also be used as fertilizers for agriculture or aquaculture feeds. “Fish in fish farms are currently fed with captured wild fish which does not reduce the problem of overfishing, but increases it. Jellyfish as feed would be much more sustainable and would protect the natural fish stocks,” says the GoJelly team.

The Seabin Project V5

Image source: Seabin Project

The V5 Seabin is a kind of trash skimmer which is installed at harbors, ports, marinas or any other water body whose surface is calm. This bin works on a simple concept of skimming floating plastic debris including micro and macro plastics. The bin also includes oil absorbent pads and can help to clean the oil debris from water. The concept is that after installation, the water is sucked into the bin through a catch bag. The debris is then trapped inside and water is then released back.With a submersible water pump, the Seabin can displace around 25 liters of water/per hour. 

The bin can be plugged into either 110V to 220V outlet. The Seabin has a low energy consumption (around 500 watts). It is very adaptable and can also run on clean energy (i.e solar or  wind). 

As per the statistics, the Seabin is capable of removing 3.9kgs of floating debris per day or 1.4 tons per year. Around 90,000 shopping bags, 11,900 plastic bottles, 50,000 600 ml of water bottles, 37,500 disposable cups make up an annual Seabin catch. The cost of each bin is around $4100 and the maintenance cost runs as low as $3. It is also expected that this machine will also be installed in the middle of the ocean in future, so as to remove the garbage from ocean water.

The main advantage of this method is that it is quite convenient to use, adaptable, is energy efficient, works on clean energy and helps to trap oil particles along with plastic debris which can be quite damaging. By removing major chunks of debris at harbors, it helps to prevent plastics from entering into the ocean.


The WasteShark is an aqua-drone that swims through water to collect plastic debris. RanMarine Technology developed this solution in 2018. The drone is battery operated and works by remote control. This drone is used on harbors, ports, and other waterways where it floats on surface water catching plastic debris. Another added advantage is that WasteShark can also help to clean algae deposits which can be harmful to aquatic plant or animal growth. 

WasteShark can work for 8 hours a day with zero carbon emission. This debris collector also can give information about the water salinity, Ph, and other conditions to monitor the health of the water. This aqua-drone can remove up to 500 kg of trash per day. It is quite affordable and has a low maintenance cost.

WasteShark is also quite compact. This trash remover can operate in tight areas where it is difficult to reach for clean-up actions. Just like the sea bin project, this can remove debris before they enter into the ocean. Also, WasteShark operates in all weather conditions.

Image source: German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence

Join the Island Pavilion at the UN Ocean Conference

The UN Ocean Conference is an international event that has the potential to turn the tide on ocean conservation. The Island Innovation team will be on the ground at the 2022 UN Ocean Conference, providing live coverage and synopsis to connect islands around the world to what’s happening in Lisbon. 

Our community is spread globally, and we want to ensure everyone has the opportunity to benefit from the discussions taking place on the future of the ocean, especially those living on islands and coastal areas. During the Conference, we are going to present our virtual “Island Pavilion” where we will share key insights related to remote, rural and island communities and provide resources for both those physically attending and those following online. If you care about the ocean and wish to learn more about the efforts, innovations and solutions being developed by world leaders, please make sure you register for the Island Pavilion

The registration is free and you will receive the most relevant information, updates, and news from us. It doesn’t matter if you can’t make it to Lisbon in person, as we will be provided updates and news to our audience on islands around the world.

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