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First-of-its-kind trash interceptor in North America proves how we can fix our polluted oceans

first of its kind trash interceptor
Posted at 11:38 AM, Dec 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-02 12:38:28-05

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — There is something about the ocean that creates a sense of overwhelming serenity. That is until you realize how some people treat our bodies of water.

As a community advocate in Los Angeles living right near the beach, Lucy Han has watched careless acts have consequences in the Pacific Ocean. She is also the co-founder of Friends of the Jungle, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting community, safety, and a clean environment.

"I clean up the trash on my street on a daily basis. People don't care they'll put their trash in a plant or they'll just dump it I mean I've picked up diapers before," Han said. “Prior to the interceptor, the beaches would be so littered with trash. You couldn’t even take a step without stepping on trash.”

Americans alone throw out about 4.9 pounds of trash per person every day. In 2016, Han was feeling the weight of that garbage right in her neighborhood, so she started pushing for a solution. Six years later, her community is now the face of new technology in North America. A first-of-its-kind trash interceptor in North America is now living in Ballona Creek for a two-year pilot project.

Steve Frasher, with the Los Angeles County Public Works, explains how it works.

"The interceptor was developed to address trash at the mouths of rivers," Frasher said. "The interceptor, as we see it here, has one trash boom connected during fair weather. During a storm event, it would actually have a second trash boom creating a V that channels all of the downstream trash right into the mouth of the interceptor."

A conveyor belt inside disperses the trash into six bins to balance the weight. The trash then gets taken out for proper separation and dumping.

"The interceptor has the capacity to capture far more material in a storm event. It's compact, it's automated, it's much less personnel intensive when it comes to disposing of the trash," Frasher said.

Frasher feels this is an opportunity to set an example for the rest of the country.

"There's all kinds of jurisdictions watching what happens here with Los Angeles County to see how the interceptor performs in this kind of environment," Frasher said.

The technology was created by The Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit based in the Netherlands that is developing and scaling technologies to rid the oceans of plastic.

“The problem of the pollution in the accumulation zones in the oceans is growing exponentially," said Joost Dubois, with The Ocean Cleanup.

Dubois tells us about 80% of all plastic is entering the ocean through 1% of all rivers. There are about 100,000 rivers in the world so their goal is to impact 1,000 rivers, which would help them stop 80% of the plastic influx.

"This is actually our 10th deployment," Dubois said. "Doing this in California and in the Western world is really special."

Approximately 51 trillion microscopic pieces are in the ocean which weighs 269,000 tons. That's equivalent to 1,345 blue whales. You may think to yourself there's a lot of ocean out there. Well, it shockingly adds up, equaling about 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile. So far, this technology has had far more success than other efforts.

"During dry winter of last year, we did have some have some significant storms, and we caught about 30 tons of trash at the trash boom in this last winter and already from this last storm the inceptor has captured 9 tons," Frasher said.

The hope for those with Los Angeles county is to keep the interceptor permanent. The data gathered from this pilot could help other coastal communities get one of their own. There are currently other interceptors in Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and South America.