Buggy sucks up nasty nurdles on beaches

It was after a beach clean-up in Cape Town early last year that an exasperated Chris Krauss phoned his father-in-law, Luigi Faccio. Krauss and other members of the #SeaTheBiggerPicture, an ocean conservation initiative, were frustrated by trying to remove microplastics — nurdles — by hand. The lentil-size plastic particles spread insidiously across beaches.

“Chris said to me: ‘Listen, can’t we do something, try to organise a vacuum, that we can clean the beaches with?’  ” recalls Faccio. 

Faccio, who runs Matriarch Generic Engineering in Germiston, was intrigued. Together with the #SeaTheBiggerPicture team, his firm developed the Enviro Buggy, a four-wheeled, self-propelled stainless steel and aluminium vacuum cleaner that sucks up microplastics on beaches.

Research by North-West University indicates that South Africa contributes between 15 000 and 40 000 tons of marine plastic every year.

“These plastic nurdles are exceptionally dangerous,” says Faccio. “Marine animals see them and think it’s food and end up eating all these little pieces of plastic floating in the sea and starve or suffocate to death.”

Faccio says the buggy can be handled by one person, depending on the terrain. “It travels at walking speed, but through the variable speed drive it can move at an easy jog speed. 

“There are two baskets inside the vacuum box, one for the bigger pieces and one to catch the nurdles in the bottom basket. There is also a built-in shaker to filter any sand collected. It’s like a little car and can go forwards and backwards — and you can put it in a neutral position if you’ve got a lot to clean up in one spot.”

An improved model will be rolled out next year, says Faccio, who stresses that there’s more to the buggy than removing microplastics. 

“You can use it for the parks, on roadsides, after football matches, on riverbanks. It’s really versatile. We’ve had an incredible response and people want to know if we will be producing them for sale. If we get the orders, we will eventually,” he says.

Faccio’s daughter, Tash Krauss, tells how #SeaTheBiggerPicture was formed by a group of free divers who see the effect of plastics every day.

She says the buggy is just an important preventative method in trying to reduce the amount of plastic that enters the natural environment, and “plastics need to stop. We need to take what’s in the environment, figure out how to reuse it and stop manufacturing more. That is the only solution. We cannot keep producing and tripling the volume of plastics … We are heading for a collision course with life. Without a healthy environment, healthy oceans, healthy forests, we have nothing to breathe.”

Faccio says the buggy costs R50 000. “But it’s not a money making issue for us, it’s to support the environment. We’re going to rent them to municipalities … with a maintenance contract thrown in, and we’ll service it once a year, or whatever the case may be.”

It has been estimated that up to 34-million tons of plastic waste will go into the world’s lakes, rivers and oceans this year. 

“We’ve really got to do something and fast about plastic pollution and we’re hoping the big companies, the plastic manufacturers, will come on board,” says Faccio.

Firm turns plastic waste into concrete

A Cape Town firm has come up with a novel solution for the plastic pollution problem — it’s turning waste plastic into concrete products. 

“We can take any plastic waste: contaminated waste, river plastic, ocean plastic and unrecycled plastic, which is about one million tons going to landfill in South Africa,” says Deon Robbertze of the Centre for Regenerative Design and Collaboration (CRDC). 

“We put that through a process and turn it into a lightweight concrete modifier, or aggregate. That then gets added to a variety of concrete products.”

The CRDC, which is working with the Enviro Buggy team and other coastal clean-up initiatives, plans to have a full-scale factory that will turn 1 000 tons of plastic a month into a building product by June. 

“Our aim is to have 21 factories up in the next five years across the country,” Robbertze says, adding that the product will be used in social housing projects from January. — Sheree Bega

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Sheree Bega
Sheree Bega is an environment reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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