The world has a plastic problem, and not of the Barbie variety. Life is plastic and far from fantastic. As single-use plastics continue to permeate every aspect of our daily lives globally, especially during and post-pandemic where the spread of the disease was at the forefront of everyone’s mind, not necessarily the environment, we are now experiencing the impact of a plastic pandemic. So much so that plastic, in particular micro-plastics, have now been detected in the ocean fish that we consume daily. What this means is outside of the various ways that we knowingly subject ourselves and our environment to plastics and micro-plastics, we are unknowingly ingesting it too. The long-term effects of this are still being investigated; however, they can’t be good.

With this in mind, many countries are exploring creative means of getting on top of and addressing the plastic problem locally and globally. One such country that is thinking outside the box is the Netherlands. In 2019, the first Bubble Barrier was implemented in Amsterdam. The Bubble Barrier was installed by a company known by the same name – The Great Bubble Barrier. The idea behind the Bubble Barrier is to prevent plastic found in the Amsterdam canals, from reaching the North Sea, which will have much more far-reaching consequences. The Bubble Barrier is not alone in its efforts to combat plastic; the barrier has been established in a strategic position and works alongside the garbage boats of Waternet, which means that there are procedures in place to prevent plastic from travelling further than it should, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Bubble Barrier works by using the rising bubbles to create an upwards current that brings plastic to the water’s surface, therefore making it easier for collection. Its strategic placement then allows the plastic to be driven into the allocated collection points at the side of the canal. This is all very good and well for the plastic, but what impact does this have on aquatic life within the canal? Well, as it turns out, the benefits of the Bubble Barrier extend past it’s initially designed purpose. The additional oxygen in the water as pumped by the Bubble Barrier actually assists in the prevention of harmful algae blooms; it also acts as a noise-pollutant buffer too. The Bubble Barrier was also designed with nature in mind. While the bubbles do not remove micro plastics, they do target smaller to large pieces from approximately 2cm in size onwards. The program has captured an impressive 3517 kg of plastic up until July 2023 and 681,375 pieces of debris.