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A glass of beer inspired these inventors to make a system that collects plastic waste in rivers using bubbles

For inventing the Great Bubble Barrier, Anne Marieke Eveleens, Saskia Studer, Francis Zoet, and Philip Ehrhorn are four of Fast Company’s Most Creative People of 2020.

A glass of beer inspired these inventors to make a system that collects plastic waste in rivers using bubbles

Over drinks one night in Amsterdam, a group of friends—Anne Marieke Eveleens, Saskia Studer, and Francis Zoet—started talking about the problem of plastic pollution when they noticed bubbles rising in a glass of beer. Could a stream of bubbles catch plastic flowing through canals and rivers before it got to the ocean? After beginning work on the project, they were contacted by an engineering student in Berlin named Philip Ehrhorn, who saw online that they were pursuing the same concept. Together, they built a device called the Bubble Barrier, which they installed in an Amsterdam canal last November. It pumps air through a tube to make bubbles that push plastic into a collection area without disrupting boat traffic or wildlife. During a test, the system caught 86% of plastic waste. It’s merely one part of “the whole chain of things we have to change,” says Ehrhorn, head of technical development. The Great Bubble Barrier is now working on a system that can be packaged, shipped, and set up anywhere in the world.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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