Waste Processing : BeBot to process microplastics on beaches

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A robot can now sift the sand on beaches for microplastics.

The solar-powered robot BeBot is primed to speed up beach clean-ups. Usually, workers or volunteers are adept at picking and sorting larger pieces of plastic waste such as disposable bottles or food wrappers.

Yet microplastics-tiny pieces of plastic residue weathered down from larger plastic products or intentionally developed that small-are easy to miss with the naked eye.

A BeBot, which ranges back and forth across the top level of sand on a beach, helps render waste picking at beaches more efficient.

According to Alex Schulze, CEO of 40cean, which produced the robot in tandem with Poralu Marine, BeBots are intended for the clean-up of beaches that are generally free of large plastics but abound in microplastics.

The robot in question trumps conventional technical solutions in use for plastic sorting due to its handy size. Diesel powered tractors or giant vacuums that suck plastic from the sand have previously been used to address the microplastic problem, yet these come with the potential of disrupting local wildlife as well as beachgoers due to their bulky size and sound.

Covering an area roughly three-fifths the size of a football field each hour, the BeBot excavates plastics larger than a square centimetre, ranging from old cigarette stubs to pieces of packaging. As it also picks up seashells and pebbles, manual maintenance to sort and sift unwanted material that can be returned to the sand is needed. Yet this still proves a sizeable advantage to common waste processing methods on beaches that would see the entire task conducted by hand.

4Ocean is set to expand globally, with Schulze aiming for the universal adoption of BeBots on beaches. The company, which also hires pickers for clean-ups, intends to use the robots to supplement waste picking of larger plastics. 4Ocean intends to upcycle the collected plastic residue into sneakers.

“This machine is by no means a solution for the ocean plastic crisis,” Schulze said. “We hope to use this machine to collect that plastic that exists as well as raise awareness to how that plastic is getting on the coastlines and in the ocean. And we hope to use it as a tool to drive awareness so that people live a more sustainable lifestyle and cut down on the amount of single-use plastic that they’re consuming.”