By Anastasia Birami
More people will be occupying the shores of Lake Erie this spring, as BeBot and PixieDrone plastic-cleaning robots help clean up the Great Lakes.
remote control BeBot Sieves through sand to collect plastic waste to a depth of one inch. It is 100% solar powered.
the PixieDrone It’s a floating trash collector, also remotely controlled, that can collect up to 42 gallons of plastic, according to The Searial Cleaners, a manufacturer of green technologies dedicated to collecting trash on the beach before it goes too far into the waterways.
“We don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all solution,” said Claire Toffer, Director of Searial Cleaners. “That’s why we’ve developed a range of technologies because we know there are a variety of different locations and conditions.”
Awareness of plastic pollution is centered on the oceans, especially in huge garbage patches. Ally Walker, that organization’s program officer, said the Great Lakes Region Council, a binational non-profit network, discovered a troubling statistic.
“Up to 22 million pounds of plastic could enter the Great Lakes annually,” Walker said.
The robots have been deployed as part of the Great Lakes Plastic Clean-up Initiative, an effort that began in 2020 and is being led by the Council and Pollution Probe.
Both machines were funded by a $1 million donation from the Meijer grocery chain. The NOAA has also helped the council deploy another technology that filters pollutants out of waterways.
Walker said the donation helped purchase and deploy the technology and supported Great Lakes Council partners in conducting trash cleanups and waste characterization activities from April through October.
She said additional studies from Great Lakes Region Council partners found the concentration of microplastics at the water surface to be about 483,000 particles per square mile. This is on par with what is found in litter patches in the ocean.
Council has Infographic From the University of Toronto trash team showing plastic pollution hotspots and the pieces of plastic collected in each county or region.
BeBots and Pixedrones will be deployed at Olander Park near Toledo, then Hinckley Reservation, North Coast Harbor and Fairport Harbor Beach in the Cleveland area.
The Great Lakes Region Council is working with four partners each, BeBot and PixieDrone. Walker said they will be deployed to 18 locations.
Walker said the PixieDrone can collect smaller pieces of plastic than they do in the water, which can be difficult for people to pick up even if they have a boat.
Topher said the BeBot holds up to 26 gallons of trash. It digs in the sand and sifts for smaller pieces of plastic that people might not see.
He only digs an inch to avoid causing shoreline erosion.
Walker said both robots could be more effective than people at collecting small plastic items from hard-to-reach waste. “This does not mean that they replace volunteers.”
In addition to pulling plastic from beaches, Walker said companies and other groups also need to implement policies that are friendly to a circular economy and where less plastic waste is generated.
“We could just pull so much out of the Great Lakes without making a change to the regulations that put plastics into the Great Lakes in the first place,” Walker said.
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