A Vacuum for Beach Clean-Ups

Our oceans need our help.

Our oceans need our help.

One of the biggest threats facing our oceans and shorelines is plastics. While SeaLuxe has joined the many who organize beach clean-ups, picking up trash such as plastic bags and, ugh, cigarette butts it is impossible to pick up microplastics.

Microplastics are classified as such when they’re five millimeters or smaller in size. They are usually not picked up by water filtration and get into our rivers and oceans where fish and other aquatic animals mistake them for food. They also start out as larger plastic pieces, such as bags, and are broken down. Another big source of microplastics come from microfibres that leach from clothing (many workout clothing unfortunately contains microfibres) or cleaning cloths.

Even though your favourite beach may look clean, the sad reality is that microplastics are likely present.

SeaLuxe was excited to learn that a group of mechanical engineering students from the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec recently built a massive vacuum cleaner that can collect microplastics without removing sand from the beach. Check out this short video to see it in action.

Wow!

The 12 Canadians built their vacuum for a class project. Using a handheld hose, the machine sucks up plastic and sand and dumps it into a huge tank of water. Rocks and sand, being heavier than plastic, sink to the bottom and go back to the beach. The plastic floats to the top of the tank.

The Hawaii Wildlife Fund organizes regular cleanups at Kamilo Point on Hawaii's Big Island. Photo courtesy: Megan Lamson.

The Hawaii Wildlife Fund organizes regular cleanups at Kamilo Point on Hawaii's Big Island. Photo courtesy: Megan Lamson.

The vacuum, called the Ho’ola One, was tested on the sands of Hawaii’s Kamilo Beach. Kamilo Beach is located in a rural area of Hawaii’s Big Island and it is a wasteland of plastic due to its proximity to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Thousands of pounds of plastic junk wash up on Kamilo Beach every year, earning it the nickname “Plastic Beach” and the unfortunate title of being one of the dirtiest beaches in the world.

It was a trial run for the students and while their prototype vacuum ran into some issues during its inaugural run, the students managed to fix the problems and were successful in tidying up the beach. Other groups do their best to keep the garbage at Kamilo Beach under control but they all say the same thing that it’s a global pollution problem. The Hawaii Wildlife Fund is one of those organizations. Recently, after picking up countless discarded fishing nets, they send them to the Island of Oahu to be converted into energy as part of NOAA’s Net-to-Energy program (the nets are cut into smaller pieces and burned as fuel).

But nobody, until now, has a vacuum.

“We did some research and we realized there was no one machine around the world to do this kind of job,” Ho’ola one co-founder Sam Duval told Hawaii Public Radio. “So we told each other, ‘We will invent it,’ and we did it.”

The students donated the Ho’ola One to the state department in hopes the vacuum can be deployed to clean up the beach regularly. Meanwhile they are looking for funding and sponsorships to produce more Ho’ola One vacuums.

We hope somebody steps in (cough plastics manufacturers cough) to help fast!