With increasing amounts of plastic waste polluting waterways, an Australian-designed ‘rubbish bin for the ocean’ has made a splash on the global scene.
A 2016 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation stated that unless things changed now, by 2050 the ocean would contain a greater mass of plastic waste than fish. Two Australians have created a product that could make a difference to that startling statistic.
Sailing enthusiast Andrew Turton told product designer and boat builder Pete Ceglinski about his idea to create a rubbish bin for the ocean two years ago. According to Ceglinski, the decision to team up and make the Seabin a reality was a “no brainer”.
“It was a great cause, great product and a great challenge,” Ceglinski said.
Both Turton and Ceglinski were based in Europe at the time, and they initially set up their operations in Palma, Majorca. They are now keen to set up a home base in Australia, while still maintaining a foothold in Europe.
Ceglinski said Australia is well ahead of Europe in terms of attitudes to littering on land, which can lead to rubbish being washed or blown into waterways.
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“In Australia, littering is almost non-existent these days, but in Europe there’s a real throw-away culture. It’s really sad,” he said.
In March the Seabin Group started distribution to the Europe, UAE and the UK. They plan to make their product available in Australia, the US and the rest of the world by mid-May.
A simple concept
According to the company’s website, the current model of Seabin uses a simple process of moving up and down with the tide to collect rubbish from floating marinas.
A submersible water pump (which can displace 25,000 litres per hour) sucks water in from the surface and catches debris and rubbish in an internal bag that can hold 20 kg of waste. The pump then returns clean water to the marina.
The pump is designed to be plugged into 110/220 V shore power. The Seabin Group estimates each unit can catch up to 1.5 kg of rubbish a day, and needs to be emptied only once a month.
Ceglinski said Seabin’s filter has been successful in extracting microplastics as fine as 2 mm, and the team will be working on further refinements. A trial of using plastic waste captured by the bin to manufacture more Seabins are also underway.
Other project challenges include lowering the carbon footprint of Seabin’s production through the use of wind or solar to supplement shore power; lowering running costs (estimated at $1 per day); and developing a model that is suitable for fixed marinas, pylons and hard-edged waterways, such as the canals of Venice.
Technology is not the whole solution
Ceglinski’s ultimate goal is to eliminate the need for technology to clean plastic waste from the ocean through education. He wants consumers to be responsible with how they dispose of waste to stop the flow of pollution into waterways.
“We need technological solutions, but it would be good to not need them. The real solution is not the technology, but us being more responsible with how we purchase, reuse and recycle,” Ceglinski said.
Back in Europe the Seabin team have formed partnerships with schools and youth groups to interact with the technology and document what they catch. Marina staff are also getting involved by documenting the coffee cups, plastic bags and other rubbish they trap.
Ceglinski said the company has attracted the attention of environmental and government groups in Australia and around the world that would like to use the Seabin to set up stations to collect data about ocean debris.
He said groups including the CSIRO, Mission Blue and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have expressed an interest in using the technology.
To make this possible, the Seabin Group have joined forces with US environmental engineer Dr Jenna Jambeck, an associate professor at the University of Georgia who is known for her research into marine plastic pollution.
According to the Seabin Group, Jambeck’s Marine Debris Tracker app and portal will play an essential role in their newly launched Seabin Share Program. This program will see the Seabin Group loan units to environmental groups for six to 12 months, which will allow them to collect data about the sources of man-made ocean debris.
“By broadening our data collection capabilities and engaging other marine experts and organisations, we’re getting a more accurate understanding of the challenge that we all face,” he explained.
Ceglinski called the Seabin Share Program the next big step in the fight against pollution from plastic waste in the ocean. According to him, it could help us stop debris upstream before it makes its way into the sea, thus stopping the problem before it balloons into something bigger.