Students Build Vacuum That Sucks Up Microplastics From Sand on the Beach
By Elias Marat
With the world’s oceans awash in plastic, beaches and islands across the globe are waging an uphill battle in the struggle to manage the plastic debris washing ashore—especially the millions of tiny microplastics that are nearly impossible to sift from the sand.
In Hawaii, however, authorities hope that a new project developed by a group of mechanical engineering students from Canada will be able to clear the tiny debris from state beaches without impacting sand on the beach.
The plastic vacuum cleaner, developed by 12 students from the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec, is called the Hoola One and was initially developed as a school project.
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Hoola One co-founder Sam Duval told Hawaii Public Radio that he and his classmates were inspired after seeing a video online of Kamilo Beach on the southeast coast of Hawaii’s big island, which is tragically called “Trash Beach,” earning infamy as “one of the dirtiest places on earth.”
Ocean currents shove tons of trash onto Kamilo, 90 percent of which is plastic and other garbage from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. As a result, the plastics leach carcinogenic toxins and chemicals into the marine environment, with plastic debris endangering—and ultimately killing—marine wildlife.
Duval knew that something had to be done. He explained:
“We did some research and we realized there was no machine around the world to do this kind of job.
So we told each other, ʻWe will invent it,’ and we did it.”
Like any vacuum cleaner, the gigantic machine uses a handheld hose to suck up plastic and sand before dumping it into a huge tank of water. As the plastic floats to the top of the water, the sand sinks to the bottom so that it can be returned to the beach.
When a prototype of the machine was tested in April on Kamilo beach, the students ran into a few technical problems—however, they were eventually able to iron out the kinks and get a bit of work done.
The team left the Hoola One prototype behind as a donation, and now hopes to raise money from both the public and private sector in order to build other versions of the machine, including smaller vacuums.
Ocean pollution has reached such massive proportions that an estimated 100 million tons of plastic can now be found in the world’s oceans, according to the United Nations. Between 80 and 90 percent of it comes from land-based sources. And according to a report prepared for the 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, by 2050 it is estimated that plastic waste in the ocean will outweigh all fish.
However, with new inventions like Hoola One and The Ocean Cleanup Project’s System 001/B, one hopes that human ingenuity will be able to clean up the massive mess we’ve made that is piling up on beaches across the globe.