Courtesy photo

Around 60,000 pounds of trash makes its way into the ocean from the Ballona Creek every year, but County officials are hoping a garbage collecting barge will make a serious dent in this pollution problem.

The soon to be installed piece of trash gathering technology, known as the Interceptor, is the brainchild of Dutch non-profit organization The Ocean Cleanup. It will be moored approximately 500 feet downstream of the Pacific Avenue Bridge right by the mouth of the Ballona Creek, where it will utilize the river’s natural flow and a mechanical ramp to collect debris in its floating dumpsters.  

“The recent storm event on March 28 demonstrates that trash remains a significant issue. And any trash that does not get captured makes its way out into the ocean, and ultimately back into the nearby Marina Del Rey and the beach at Playa Del Rey,” said Mark Pestrella, Director of Los Angeles County Public Works. “The trash and debris that accumulated along the beach during that storm are a sobering reminder that additional actions are needed to solve this problem.”

In March 2019, the Board of Supervisors passed a motion making it a key goal to get a handle on the trash problem in the Ballona Creek. Around the same time, The Ocean Cleanup approached the County with an offer to run a two year pilot program testing the efficiency of the Interceptor in capturing trash and plastic within the creek.

Rivers are the leading source of ocean plastic pollution and according to The Ocean Cleanup’s research around 1,000 rivers are responsible for 80 percent of river plastic. The organization is working on scalable technology solutions that can be deployed in these rivers across the world. 

The Ocean Cleanup has so far installed eight versions of the Interceptor in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam and Jamaica and collected more than 1.2 million kilograms of trash. The Ballona Creek Trash Interceptor Pilot Program will mark the first time this technology is utilized in the US. 

“The Interceptor pilot augments our other ongoing trash-capture efforts, and would have  independently beneficial effects,” said Pestrella. “We see this as an opportunity to test a relatively new technology on a pilot basis, and for its potential ability to be implemented and be beneficial, not just for Ballona Creek, but in other areas in the LA Region.”

Following the Board of Supervisors’ approval of the latest job order contract in an April 5 meeting, construction is set to begin later this month and be completed in time for a September launch. 

Current efforts to prevent trash from entering the ocean from the Ballona Creek center around a system of floating mesh nets known as trash booms. There is a main boom installed within the creek south of Lincoln Boulevard and the County has tested a pilot launch of two additional booms at Purdue Avenue and Centinela Boulevard. The County also runs educational campaigns aimed at preventing pollutants from making their way to the creek, hosts river bank clean-ups and is planning a longer-term trash capture project with an automated trash rack at Alla Road.

The Interceptor has several advantages over the existing boom system. It can both collect a greater volume of debris and isn’t prone to overflows during high rain events. The river’s flow and the Interceptor’s barriers guide trash towards the opening of the Interceptor where a conveyor belt extracts the debris and a shuttle automatically distributes it across six dumpsters.

“The location downstream of the Pacific Avenue Bridge is the optimum location to test the two-year pilot as it experiences slower velocities at the mouth of the creek, allowing slower-moving trash to be captured by the trash booms,” said Pestrella. “Additionally, this location offers the optimal end-of-pipe solution and the last line of defense to maximize the amount of trash captured before it escapes into the ocean, while also providing the opportunity to fully test the efficiency and capacity of the Interceptor technology.”

The trash bins on the Interceptor are capable of collectively holding around 11 tons of trash and send an automatic notification to operators when they are ready to be emptied. So far 31 tons of trash have been collected within Ballona Creek during the 2021 to 2022 storm season. The Interceptor is expected to significantly amplify these numbers and has the added benefit of being entirely solar powered.