Engineering students at the University of Sherbrooke design a prototype machine that removes small plastic debris from beach sand.

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A group of engineering students at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec, Canada have been working with the Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund (HWF) to design a prototype machine to remove small pieces of plastic debris from beaches. Their invention is called HoolaOne.

The HWF has been working with volunteers to clean the coastlien near Kamilo Point in Kaʻū on Hawaiʻi island for 15 years and just recovered 500,000 pounds of plastic, including bundles of nets and line. According to HWF, it is impossible to collect everything and plastic never goes away, because it only breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. This microplastic debris is the most difficult to collect and remove from the beach because doing so is very time consuming.

“Two years ago, this group of engineering students from the University of Sherbrooke approached us and asked what they might do to help with our marine debris recovery work,” Bill Gilmartin, HWF’s Research director, said. “I suggested they tackle the problem of removing small plastic pieces from beach sand and they took on the challenge as a class project.”  

HWF sent the students pictures of the problem and shipped them boxes of plastic-laden beach sand to work with.

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