Hoping to cut down on the volume of plastics and other trash floating along Ballona Creek to the ocean, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to test new technology from the Netherlands.
The board approved a two-year pilot program with The Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch nonprofit that develops advanced technologies in an effort to rid the oceans of plastic.
Supervisor Janice Hahn, who chairs the board, issued a statement following the vote, saying the “buildup of plastics in our oceans is one of the biggest environmental challenges of our time.”
“We are announcing a plan to install a system that will not only stop trash flowing from Ballona Creek into the Santa Monica Bay, but will be part of a global project to prevent the flow of plastic pollution into our world’s oceans,” she said.
The nonprofit organization has engineered the Interceptor, a solar-powered barge designed as a catamaran, to capture trash on a conveyor belt that carries it up and onto a shuttle system. The shuttle then distributes the trash into a series of six dumpsters that can store up to 50 cubic meters of trash, according to the nonprofit’s website. When it is full, an automated text is sent to local operators to come and collect the waste.
Most of the millions of tons of plastic that end up in swirling, island-like ”garbage patches” in the world’s oceans comes from rivers, according to The Ocean Cleanup, whose stated goal is to install 1,000 Interceptors in rivers worldwide in order to block 80% of plastic from flowing into the ocean over five years.
Department of Public Works Director Mark Pestrella said the best solution is to control trash at the source, but the new technology would complement that work.
“We are focused on preventing litter, trash and other pollutants from entering our local rivers, lakes, streams and the ocean,” Pestrella said. “The Interceptor would be the first of its kind deployed in the U.S., Canada, Central and South America, using solar-powered engineering to harvest floating waste and debris from within a river system.”
Four Interceptors have been built as of last month and are in operation in Indonesia and Malaysia. The plan is to assemble a custom-designed barge for Ballona Creek in the U.S. and start operations by September 2020.
The Ocean Cleanup’s founder and CEO, Boyan Slat, said the company was excited to be working with Los Angeles County.
“Millions of tons of plastic waste finds its way into our oceans every year, so it’s clear that, in addition to solving the legacy problem in the ocean gyres, we also need to address the issue of ocean plastic pollution at the source,” Slat said. “The Interceptor is currently the only workable, scalable solution to this global problem. We are delighted to be partnering with L.A. County, which shows this tool is a supplement, not a replacement, for good waste infrastructure or any other prevention activity.”
At the end of the pilot to test the equipment’s efficiency, the county will have the option to keep the Interceptor for free, according to board documents.
A pilot of an earlier clean-up system, launched in the San Francisco Bay in September 2018, uncovered issues with the retention of plastic and structural integrity. The new system was engineered to be smaller and modular to address these issues, according to the company’s website.
The Department of Public Works has already installed a “last line of defense” net near the outlet of the channel and will continue to pursue other short- and long-term solutions to the trash problem.
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