Dutch startup “The Great Bubble Barrier” has been building “air curtains” and removing tons of plastic from rivers since 2017. The technology is simple and promising. With the help of pipes in the water, a curtain of air is formed. Fish and other river dwellers can swim through it, while plastic waste is intercepted. 

The startup from Amsterdam has spent seven years developing the technology for the “bubble barrier.” They began conducting pilot tests in the spring of 2017, and since November of that year, the first filter system has been implemented on the River IJssel in the Netherlands. This system is capable of retrieving even the tiniest plastic fragments, measuring one millimeter in diameter, from the water. Currently, the startup is conducting tests to determine if the air barrier can filter out even smaller plastic particles, specifically those less than 0.05 millimeters in size.

Simple technology, clean rivers, healthy people

The functioning of the air barrier is straightforward. Tubes located at the base of a river or canal release air into the water, causing the plastic pollution to gather on a single side due to the flow. Subsequently, the plastic is directed into a collection system where it is sorted and appropriately disposed of. The innovation developed by this start-up could also be beneficial in countries like Austria, where rivers are similarly contaminated with garbage.

According to the WWF, approximately 66% of Austria’s water bodies require restoration. The report indicates that only 15% of these waters are currently classified as being in “excellent” condition. The pollution is attributed to factors such as high construction density in certain areas and the industrial utilization of rivers for activities like sewage disposal and cargo shipping. Environment Minister Gewessler from the Green Party expressed concern about the contamination of the environment and water bodies, although the interim report on the “Action Plan Microplastics” is still awaiting completion.

Photo: The Great Bubble Barrier®
A stream of air bubbles propels the trash into a collection bin (Photo: The Great Bubble Barrier®)

Nearly 80 percent of plastic pollution in the sea comes from rivers

The technology developed in Holland shows potential for not only purifying freshwater streams, but also aiding in the purification of the oceans. Rivers are responsible for approximately 80 percent of the plastic found in the world’s seas. Presently, it is believed that there is a staggering amount of garbage, ranging from 100 to 150 million tons, present in the oceans. Plastic accounts for over three-quarters of this waste. Annually, rivers carry an additional five to thirteen million tons of trash into the seas, with four million tons originating from only ten major rivers.

“The Great Bubble Barrier founders stated that they conducted a six-month testing phase in Amsterdam, successfully extracting approximately 85 kilograms of plastic from the water on a monthly basis.”

Over the course of a year, this amounts to over a ton of plastic waste. This is beneficial not only for the environment but also for individuals. The waste does not remain solely in the water, as fish and other marine animals consume the plastic pollution. Consequently, these pollutants reenter the human body through food, potentially causing hormonal changes due to the presence of microplastics. The air curtain technology from the Netherlands appears to offer a solution that could result in cleaner oceans, a preserved environment, and improved human health.