As it weaves and winds through the concrete jungle of western Los Angeles County, the Ballona Creek flood channel collects many types of pollutants, including trash, oil, pesticides and industrial chemicals.
It’s not unheard of for one to find a shopping cart dumped in the creek, according to the Ballona Creek Renaissance — an organization of volunteers who have hand-collected more than 1.3 tons of trash in the river since its founding.
Ideally, there would be no garbage finding its way into Ballona Creek, “but too often we do have trash,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn said Friday, mentioning Ballona Creek used to be one of 1,000 waterways worldwide that were responsible for 80 percent of the plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.
This has become a major challenge for local county officials, but Hahn believes a new trash harvesting device created by international nonprofit The Ocean Cleanup may be the answer to the problem.
The device is called the InterceptorTM, and Joost Dubois, The Ocean Cleanup’s head of communications, said during Friday’s press conference that the solar-powered trash removal system will use a conveyor belt to extract harmful debris from waterways and complement the trash collecting mechanisms that are already in place throughout the county.
“Rivers are one of the biggest contributors to ocean plastics. They are the arteries that carry the plastic to the sea,” Dubois said. But after years of research, The Ocean Cleanup has developed the world’s first fully autonomous scalable solution for tackling river pollution, “and like our ocean cleanup technology, it utilizes natural forces like solar power and river currents to operate.”
Ballona Creek’s system will be the first deployed in the Americas or Canada and the sixth one worldwide if the targeted fall 2020 deployment date is met. Officials said they will design it to specifically meet the unique conditions of Ballona Creek.
An unnamed beneficiary contributed the funds to make the project possible, according to Dubois, but The Ocean Cleanup will be responsible for manufacturing, assembling and installing the system while LA County’s Public Works department will be responsible for operations, including the collection and recycling of waste.
“This interceptor is part of a pilot program,” Dubois said, which will cover two storm seasons and allow both the county and nonprofit the opportunity to test the InterceptorTM’s technology and its capacity for the environmental conditions that are present in the local river.
“What we hope to have happen is that we look at it and see that it works here,” said Mark Pestrella, director of Los Angeles County Public Works. Depending on the results, the county could receive the device for free and also may consider installing a similar system in the Los Angeles River.
While seals below the beach house barked and “cheered them on”, Hahn, Dubois, Pestrella and Roald Lapperre, the Netherlands’ vice-minister for the Environment, posed for pictures while they signed the documents necessary to put their plan in action.
“The buildup of plastics in our oceans is one of the biggest environmental challenges of our time,” Hahn said, adding she hopes the new partnership will not only stop trash flowing from Ballona Creek into the Santa Monica Bay, “but will be part of a global project to prevent the flow of plastic pollution into our world’s oceans.”