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The Great Bubble Barrier


Based in Amsterdam, the Great Bubble Barrier is working on cleaning rivers from plastic pollution with bubbles. The Great Bubble Barrier aims to stop plastic pollution in rivers and canals before it reaches the oceans.


Plastic pollution is one of the biggest issues in this current day and age. Every minute, the equivalent of one full garbage truck of plastic trash is dumped into our oceans. This equals 1440 trucks per say and in total of 8 billion kilos each year. 80% of those plastics come from land. These plastics impacts the wildlife as birds, sea turtles and other animals ingest plastic or get entangled by it which often leads to death. It also poses a significant risk to the health of the society from the smallest to the largest living organism. It also causes a lot of issues in the transportation industry as plastics cause damage to freight and passenger ships.

The term ‘plastic soup’ is a common term which is used all around the world. This term came up from the discovery of plastic debris under the water level. Plastic is not biodegradable, it is lethal not only for the marine ecosystem, but also for us. As plastic degrades and fragments into small pieces, it can releasee toxic substances. All sorts of animals that live in or from the sea, even minute zooplankton, mistake plastic and micro plastic for food. These toxic substances enter out food chain.

By stopping the plastic from entering the ocean by halting them at their start point; the rivers. The bubble curtain is created by pumping air through a perforated tube on the bottom of the waterway. The bubble curtain creates an upward current which direct plastic to the surface. By placing the Bubble Barrier diagonally across the river, the natural flow of the water will push the plastic waste to the side and into the catchment system.

There are a couple benefits to using the bubble barrier. The first is safe for fish passage. The bubble barrier do not cause issues for fish migration. The Great Bubble Barrier is also continuously researches the behaviours of fishes around their bubble barrier to make sure their solution to plastic pollution does not cause further negative impact on the marine ecosystem. The barriers also has extensive reach as it extends across the full depth and width of the waterway. The barrier are also versatile as it is suitable for a wide range of locations without having to change the natural infrastructure. Another benefit is that the bubble barrier increased the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water which benefits the ecosystem. The barrier will also operate 24/7 without the need of an operator and can be controlled remotely. Last but not least, having a barrier that is “invisible” allows the site to still be open for ship traffic.

The bubble barrier is now implemented in rivers of Amsterdam, Katwijk, Wervershoop and in the Porto region of Portugal.


Based on the results of the pilot at Deltares research institute, it has been calculated that the Great Bubble Barrier capture approximately 70-80% of top-surface floating plastic and 50% of plastic underwater. During the tests in the IJssel in various weather conditions, it was found that it caught 86% of the (floating) test material. The bubble barrier can catch plastic as small as 1mm in size.

And to continue their fight against plastic pollution especially micro plastics, they are currently working on a pilot in Wervershoof to investigate weather they can catch microplastics measuring 20 micrometres up to 500 micro meters. The team now hopes to implement their technology to reach the most polluted rivers in Asia to intercept a significant amount of plastic pollution from going to the oceans.

By implementing this barrier in the waterways, not only will it impacts the ecosystem positively but also makes sure that the area is clean. Despite the fact that most rivers\canals in the Netherlands look clean from the naked eye, as mentioned before, the microplastics as small as 1mm can and is still lurking under the water level.