Clever bubble curtain sweeps up river plastics

The bubble curtain is placed diagonally across the river. Credit: Zeevonk Media, the Great Bubble Barrier

Pollution-preventing technology in place in a coastal region of the Netherlands is catching plastic particles in a river before they reach the ocean.

Called the Bubble Barrier, the innovative solution is preventing plastics as small as 1mm from floating down the Oude Rijn (Old Rhine) river, in the municipality of Katwijk, and into the North Sea. The system comprises three components - a bubble curtain, created by pumping air through a perforated tube laying on the bottom of the river, a catchment system and an air supply.

The bubble curtain generates an upward current which directs plastics to the surface. By placing the curtain diagonally across the river, the natural flow of the river will push the plastic waste to the side and into the catchment system. This stays in place regardless of water level or the wake from passing ships.

The Bubble Barrier is deployed along the entire width and depth of the waterway and can work 24 hours a day, without interfering with shipping traffic. Extensive testing proves the system can catch plastic particles as small as 1mm and intercept 86% of floating test material in inland waters.

The project is being delivered via a partnership with the municipality of Katwijk, the regional water authority Hoogheemraadschap van Rijnland and Coast Busters, a local initiative raising awareness of plastic pollution in the region.

“We are particularly proud to see communities empowered to take action and reaching out to us. It really shows the power of collaboration to solve plastic pollution.”

Anne Marieke Eveleens, The Great Bubble Barrier

Claar-els van Delft from Coast Busters said: “During our clean-up activities, we see that plastic pollution flows into the North Sea via the Oude Rijn in Katwijk. Every year, more than one million pieces of plastic end up in the North Sea at Katwijk."

To kickstart action, the Coast Busters invited Katwijk councillor Jacco Knape to participate in clean-up activities. Knape encouraged the initiative to investigate a long-term solution, which led them to The Great Bubble Barrier, a Dutch start-up located in the north of Amsterdam. The company had already implemented the first Bubble Barrier in a canal in Amsterdam.

In bringing the technology to Katwijk, the Coast Busters quickly gained the backing of the whole region, and support spread to neighbouring municipalities, including Holland Rijnland, and commercial sponsors.

Emile Jaensch, from Holland Rijnland said: “The problem is being tackled locally but has a broader effect - plastic pollution from the entire region upstream will be stopped.”

Anne Marieke Eveleens, co-founder at The Great Bubble Barrier said: “We are particularly proud to see communities empowered to take action and reaching out to us like the Coast Busters. It really shows the power of collaboration to solve plastic pollution.”

The local initiative does not stop here. The Coast Busters plan on building an education centre, which will also monitor the type and amount of plastic collected by the Bubble Barrier. The learnings from this research will be used to develop targeted actions to remove even more plastic from the rivers.

Knape said the project was “a perfect example that shows that together – government, partners and residents – can make a difference.”