New technologies will identify sources of plastic in the ocean

Starting next year, people in Norway will be able to use their cell phones to take pictures of plastic objects that they find along the coast. A new app is being developed to identify the source of the plastic. Photo credit: Børge Sandnes

Globally, eight million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year, although awareness of recycling and the use of single-use plastic has increased.

How should we approach the problem and where does the plastic actually come from?

“Measures to clean plastic are of little use if you don’t deal with the sources of the plastic at the same time,” says Ph.D. Candidate Christina Hellevik.

Hellevik is one of the researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Ålesund who is working to create a model that shows where plastic collects and where it comes from in the region. The researchers work with the Ålesund Region Port Authority, Ålesund Municipality and Møre og Romsdal County.

The aim is to generate more targeted measures for the remediation and collection of waste.

“One of the things we’re developing is an app that recognizes plastic based on an image,” says Hellevik.

“When you’re out to clean up marine litter, take photos of the plastic items you find on your phone and register the product in the app,” she says.

In the past, cleaning work weighed the waste and then photographed it without being able to register it in detail and efficiently.

The researchers are in the process of developing the database for the app and are working with students who are doing a master’s degree in simulation and visualization at NTNU in Ålesund.

Around 100 people will test the app when they carry out cleaning measures in the future. The team consists of the Norwegian Oil Spill and Marine Environment Preparation Center, the Round Environmental Center and volunteer organizations.

“The technology will be generally available from spring 2022, and anyone can take a photo of plastic items and get information,” says Ricardo Da Silva Torres, the professor in charge of the technical tool.

“People also have to register where the object was found,” says Torres.

The aim is for the app to help predict which areas are magnets for plastic pollution and where it comes from, and to give the municipality and port authorities better decision-making.

Clean-up work shows that the plastic sources in the Ålesund region are often materials from fish farms, industrial areas or boats.

A certain type of litter has appeared recently. “Activists around the world have seen an increase in waste from single-use plastic infection control products,” says Hellevik. “There is an urgent need to find the sources of the plastic and make good decisions.”

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Quote: New technology identifies plastic sources in the ocean (2021, April 8), retrieved from on April 8, 2021

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