The WasteShark is a Dutch/South African invention that’s already helping to clean up our waters. It’s technically an “aquadrone” and can be found in places as diverse as Cape Town and Baltimore. We spoke with CEO Richard Hardiman about how the device can make an impact in the fight against plastic.
We started by asking Richard how he got involved.
RH: My father’s an engineer – so I’ve always had that kind of thinking – and I saw how the current waste in harbours and marinas was being cleaned up, and the engineering side of me said ‘this could be done more efficiently .. and better’. It wasn’t necessarily an environmental problem that I had in mind, but rather the lack of efficiency in a process.
In very basic terms can you explain how this works? It looks like it’s a vacuum cleaner that sits on the surface of the water and sucks in all the debris. Would that be an accurate description?
RH: That’s pretty much it. The idea is that it’s a fancy wastepaper basket. The cleverness comes in the technology behind it, but the actual functionality and the hardware is literally a basket – we have ways of keeping the trash in – but the idea is to float across the surface of the water (we cover the top 30-40cm) and collect waste that way. Using the force of the water, to push the waste into the back of the basket where there’s a beach head where the waste is put on to … and that really is it. The operator or computer guides it over the waste in the water and scoop it up. I’m very big on simplicity and we could have gone into hours and hours and years of development of conveyor belts and trash compactors and that kind of thing, but to me it’s more about doing the job more quickly and efficiently – and having something that doesn’t break down.
Is this an autonomous or semi-autonomous device, or does it need to be controlled by a human?
RH: There are two versions – what we call a “Class A” and a “Class B”. The Class A is driven similar to how you would operate a standard flying drone. You have a controller … you have line-of-sight … you can guide it where you want it to go. If you spot a piece of trash in the corner you can guide it there to scoop it up. In the Class B version it gets a little more complicated. You can do it by operator, so you still have a control and can do it by line-of-sight, but you also have a camera onboard so you can go a little further out. Or, you can set it up on an iPad – so you can tell it where to go in the harbour area. It’s got collision-avoidance too so it’s not a danger to anything else … but it will follow the route that you’ve programmed. Generally, that’s because we know where trash in marinas and harbours collects. I’m sure that in Gibraltar it’s the same thing … very often you see trash collecting in one particular place – depending on the tide or the wind. Trash is fairly easy to find in a concentrated form, depending on what time of day it is, the weather and tidal conditions and soforth.
Where is the WasteShark currently being deployed?
RH: We have one in the Cape Town Waterfront at the moment as a contributor to other trash removal operations they have at the moment. We’re hoping to develop that more into the forefront of how they collect trash in the next few months. We have them in Rotterdam, we have them in Baltimore now as well as Mumbai, plus other locations in the Netherlands.
Is there a noticeable difference between these locations as to the type of trash the WasteShark is collecting?
RH: We concentrate on plastic bottles, soda cans, plastic bags, nylon strings … that kind of thing. In Mumbai we’ve had to work really hard and deploy far bigger thrusters with more power to get through the waste. In Rotterdam, on the other hand, we’ve seen what I’d call ‘incidental’ trash. There’s a lot of it, but it’s mostly floating on the surface and it collects in a certain area where it’s easy to collect in two or three scoops. In Mumbai, it’s relentless. Each one has a different challenge. There’s also bio-waste to consider … algae, seaweed and so on, but generally we like to focus on what I call ‘fresh trash’ … stuff that’s only been in there for a day or two so it’s easier to recycle.
On a global level, do you think we’ve passed the point of no return regarding pollution in our oceans?
RH: I think we can stop it. Our solution is very much to stop the ocean pollution getting worse. We talk to a fellow Dutch company that’s doing massive, massive clean up operations around the world, including in the Pacific Ocean. But they’re dealing with a problem that already exists. And it’s a thankless task. They’re cleaning up pollution from all over the world and nobody wants to pay for it. However, I don’t think we’re at the point of no return. A combination of the efforts by companies like ours and the clean-ups in the wider oceans (as well as large companies phasing out the use of single-use plastics) means that we can stop it as fast as we’ve created it. It’s a problem that’s been seeping into the oceans since at least the 1970s easily. But with all the focus, all the effort, all the technology I think that within 5-10 years of concentrated efforts we can reverse it.
Go to www.ranmarine.io to find out more