The Seabin Project: Working to Clean Up the World’s Oceans

From plastic bags snagged on coral reefs to food wrappers floating on the sea’s surface, evidence of plastic pollution is everywhere in the world’s oceans. Globally, marine ecosystems are thought to be contaminated with over 110 million tons of plastic trash, a situation that has devastating ramifications for all kinds of aquatic species. 

Four years ago, after a lifetime of visiting harbors and marinas choked with trash, Australian yachtsman Andrew Turton decided to do something about the plastic pollution problem. Together with business partner Pete Ceglinski, Turton started working on an idea that would eventually become known as the Seabin Project, a filter designed to automatically remove trash from confined bodies of water, including harbors, lakes, inland waterways and private pontoons. 

Turton says of the process that “it took a while to figure out how to do it, and I’ve made a couple of different versions.” After undergoing rigorous testing at Real Club Nautico in the inventors’ home town of Palma de Mallorca, the latest version of the Seabin is finally ready for production. The device, which resembles a large trash can, is bolted to a floating pontoon in an area of the marina that naturally collects rubbish as a result of wind and current patterns. 

The Seabin is then connected to a shore-based water pump, which allows the device to suck in water 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Floating trash and debris is filtered from the water by a catch bag constructed of natural fibers, then the water is pumped through an oil/water separator that cleanses it of the fuel and detergent continually pumped into the marina by its resident boats, yachts and ships. 

The catch bag must be removed and cleaned once a day, a simple job that Turton and Ceglinski hope will help to create employment in regions where the Seabins are deployed. While the catch bag is being cleaned and its contents responsibly disposed of, another is fitted to the Seabin in its place. Because the Seabin is attached to a floating pontoon that keeps it at the surface at all times, the catch bag remains easy to access regardless of the tides. 

Part of the design process for the Seabin involved making sure the device is eco-friendly, as well as ensuring that it is safe for people to use. After diligently observing the effect of the Seabin on marine life in the Real Club Nautico Marina, Turton and Ceglinski concluded that there are no negative impacts, although small fish apparently like to graze on the algae that inevitably collects on the device’s exterior. 

As well as creating a Seabin for general use in harbors and other inland waterways, the Australians are working on a portable version of the product that can be attached directly to private yachts. According to Turton, this version will operate a submersible pump at 48 volts instead of 220, making it possible to run the Seabin off the boat’s onboard generator. It will fit neatly underneath the vessel’s boarding platform, making it space-efficient and easy to use everywhere. 

At the moment, Turton and Ceglinski are raising the finances to set up production via crowdfunding website Indiegogo. They estimate that the project will require approximately $110,000 per 100 Seabins, all of which will be made from recycled plastic. By using sustainable materials and implementing a global network of factories to cut down on the carbon footprint of transportation, the inventors hope to keep the environmental impact of manufacturing the Seabins to a minimum. 

By manufacturing Seabins in situ, the pair hope that the project will offer financial as well environmental benefits to participating areas. They plan on dedicating some of their funding to the creation of education programs that will involve schoolchildren in the Seabin Project, thereby teaching them awareness of their personal plastic output. It is hoped that members of the general community will also be inspired to action by the visible presence of the Seabins. 

In the long term, the Australians’ ultimate goal is to make themselves redundant — to create an ocean so free of trash that there is no further need for Seabins. Turton acknowledges that his project constitutes a small step towards tackling the overwhelming problem of global plastic pollution, but remains hopeful that the Seabin Project has the power to make a difference. In his own words, “we can’t catch everything right now, but this is a really positive start.”

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