With a humming gurgle and a splash, a gadget that has caught the attention of environmentalists and financial backers alike made its Canadian debut at a Halifax marina on Tuesday.
The Seabin, which company CEO and co-founder Pete Ceglinski calls a “floating trash can,” sucked in some plastic water bottles during a demonstration at the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron. And promptly regurgitated them back into the water.
“If that happens, the bottles will stay around and will just get pulled back in,” Ceglinski told reporters, yacht club members, environmentalists and sponsors who had gathered on the floating dock at the picturesque marina on Purcells Cove Road.
Bottles, polystyrene balls, plastic bags — it’s estimated that about 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic garbage have ended up in our oceans, with about eight million tonnes more of it every year.
Obviously the Seabin, which uses a small submersible pump to suck in about 1.5 kilograms of garbage a day, won’t make much of a dent. But it’s a start, Ceglinski said in an interview before the demonstration.
“This is around half a tonne a year so while the Seabin is not huge . . . if we times the one Seabin by 100, or 1,000, you can start to see the real impact that they’re having,” said Ceglinski, an Australian who looked younger than his 39 years in a Seabin ballcap and a Butterfield Bank windbreaker.
Ceglinski was working as a boat builder for yacht racing teams about five years ago when friend Andrew Turton, another racing yacht builder, floated the idea of a water-based trash collector.
“I used to do this for a living to come up with specialized products so I could build things with my hands, do the engineering, as well as helping the environment, and it was just this light-bulb moment,” he said.
After finding other partners, the pair set up shop in Majorca, Spain, where they built a prototype of the Seabin device. They also promoted the device on social media, which attracted sponsors such as the Bermuda-based Butterfield Bank.
“We frankly stumbled upon it,” said Mark Johnson, the bank’s vice-president of communications, Tuesday at the launch.
“Like a lot of people, we saw the video on Facebook and thought, hey that’s a really cool idea. And as a bank that operates primarily in offshore jurisdictions and islands, our charitable focus tends to be about working with causes and organizations that help island environments. So this fit perfectly into that focus.”
The bank has sponsored six of the devices, including one in Bermuda and the one at the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron.
“We’re just thrilled to have a Seabin installation here,” said club commodore David Stanfield. “It sends the message that we have to take care of our environment and there’s no better place to have it, in my opinion, than on the North West Arm and here at the RNYS.”
Through the sponsorships, marinas get the Seabin for free but must maintain it (emptying the trash bag and replacing it with a fresh bag) and provide power. Education programs about reducing plastic pollution will also be held at local schools.
The first Seabin prototype only works by being tied to docks that float up and down with the tides. But future models will work on fixed docks and someday even the open ocean, Ceglinski said.
The company is working on a presale program at www.seabinproject.com. The Seabin will cost about $3,000 for one device with discounts on multiple purchases.
Environmentalists welcomed this small step toward addressing the growing problem of single-use plastics pollution.
“The problem is we don’t have proper infrastructure at the wharves or at the harbours or at the marinas (so) that waste is being washed back into the ocean,” said Sonia Smith of the Clean Nova Scotia Foundation.
“So a technology like this is amazing because it’s going to catch that little bit of waste that’s going to blow back in. To me it’s going to go a long way.”