Decoding Design

Marine drone concept: Plucking plastic pollution for profit

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Could all those water bottles and plastic toys bobbing around the oceans get snatched up and recycled?

A group of industrial design students last year mocked up a design for a marine drone that may some day hold water--or rather, may hold plastic pollution, plucked from the seas. Frenchman Elie Ahovi and some of his classmates at the International School of Design in Valenciennes, France, envision an underwater drone that would act like a massive vacuum cleaner. It would capture the ungodly amount of plastic pollution trapped in marine environments but it would use a sonic deterrent to keep sea-life from entering the drone's cavity.

The concept isn't just about cleaning up our oceanic messes, it's also about creating a new market for plastics. "Collecting and recycling plastic in those huge areas will become profitable soon and much cheaper than producing new plastic, as petrol is disappearing," Ahovi wrote to Smart Planet in an email.

I'm not so sure about his claims that scavenging plastic will be "much" cheaper, but there are definitely more and more manufacturers of consumer packaged goods that want to use recycled plastic for packaging. Soap maker Method has gone as far as to prototype, at least, a bottle made of sea-scavenged plastic. The company's Sea Mineral soap, coming out later this year, contains 10 percent plastic from the coast of Hawaii. Scaling that up that collection will a Herculean task, but if there was, say, a machine that could automate that collection...

Maybe Ahovi should have a little chat with Method. But first, it needs a much bigger corporate sponsor to take the drone from paper to, at the very list, a small-scale prototype. They'll also need to work out the methods by which the drones' booty will be collected -- early concepts include a docking station at sea where the drone would dump their collections into larger holding tanks.

Ahovi says they are hoping that a major waste management company, such as Veolia, will be up for the task.

Meanwhile, the oceans continue to fill up with what may amount to the petrol of tomorrow.

Via: Core 77

Image: Elie Ahovi

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Mary Catherine O'Connor

Contributing Writer

Mary Catherine O'Connor has written for Outside, Fast Company, Wired.com, Smithsonian.com, Entrepreneur, Earth2Tech.com, Earth Island Journal and The Magazine. She is based in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure