DURHAM, N.C. – Duke University researchers have created a new online resource designed to help local governments, conservation groups, businesses and other stakeholders identify the best technologies to clean up plastic pollution in our oceans or prevent it from getting there in the first place.

The Plastic Pollution Prevention and Collection Technology Inventory includes 52 different technologies, from solar-powered catamarans that use conveyor belts to scoop up floating debris, to underwater bubble tubes that force submerged bits of plastic to the surface where they can more easily be collected.

“No one technology will work in all situations, so we’ve created a directory that allows users to search a comprehensive list of established and emerging technologies and identify the ones that are right for their specific location or need,” said Meagan Dunphy-Daly, a marine scientist at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

While most of the technologies are geared for municipal, regional or industrial use, several are geared for home use. These include shower-loop filters that prevent microplastics used in many shampoos and liquid soaps from escaping down the drain, and dryer balls and washing machine filters that trap plastic microfibers released as clothes made from synthetic fibers are laundered.

“This empowers citizens to make changes in their own homes,” Dunphy-Daly said.

Scientists estimate that more than 8 million metric tons of plastics – roughly the weight of 90 aircraft carriers – are released into the oceans each year and that plastics will outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050. The debris poses serious risks to wildlife, which can ingest or become entangled in it. It can also negatively affect coastal tourism and commercial fisheries, degrade ecosystems, and pose risks to seafood safety and human health.

Dunphy-Daly worked with a team of Duke students to compile the new inventory of pollution-fighting technologies, which she envisions could act “as a central repository of information for researchers, policymakers, resource managers and concerned citizens alike.”

To help users identify the most effective technology for their needs, the inventory can be searched three ways: by remediation type (i.e., pollution prevention versus collection), by plastic type (larger plastics, microplastics or both), and by technology type (boats and wheels, filters, etc.). Each listing includes a concise description of the technology; settings where it is designed to be used (i.e. bays, straits, rivers, etc.); and links for more information.

Promising new technologies will be added to the inventory as they become available.

“There’s clearly room – and need – for further innovation,” Dunphy-Daly said. “Most of the 52 technologies we identified are designed for collecting larger plastic debris that is already in the water; far fewer are designed to prevent plastics from getting there in the first place by removing them at the source.

“We really need to encourage the development of new technologies to address plastics leakage,” she said, “which is why policy and advocacy are so important. Additionally, we need to think about and implement ways to limit plastic use and develop policies to curb this growing epidemic of plastic waste.”

Dunphy-Daly and her colleagues published an article describing the new online inventory in the journal Environment International.

Four students – undergraduates Emma Schmaltz and Ella Gunady, doctoral student Zoie Diana, and 2020 Master of Environmental Management graduate Emily C. Melvin – were lead authors on the paper and played leading roles in conducting much of the research.

The new inventory is a joint initiative of the Nicholas School of the Environment and the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. It stems from an interdisciplinary Bass Connections course.

CITATION: “Plastic Pollution Solutions: Emerging Technologies to Prevent and Collect Marine Plastic Pollution,” Emma Schmaltz, Emily C. Melvin, Zoie Diana, Ella F. Gunady, Daniel Rittschof, Jason A. Somarelli, John Virdin and Meagan M. Dunphy-Daly; Sept. 2, 2020, Environment International. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2020.106067