Students Build Machine To Clear Plastic Bits On Big Island Beach, Among World's Dirtiest

May 9, 2019

A machine to suck up bits of plastic on beaches is tested by Canadian university students at Kamilo Beach on the Big Island.
Credit State Department of Land and Natural Resources

Hawaiʻi’s Department of Land and Natural Resources is involved in a new project to clear microplastics from the state’s beaches, helped by a machine built by Canadian university students.

The machine separates small pieces of plastic from sand and returns the clean sand to the beach. The device is called “Hoʻōla One,” and it’s a development that started as a school project for a dozen mechanical engineering students from Canada’s University of Sherbrooke in Quebec.

Sam Duval, one of the co-founders of Ho’ōla One Technologies, told HPRʻs Bill Dorman on Thursdayʻs The Conversation that he and his fellow students saw an online video of Kamilo Beach on the Big Island, located near the southmost tip of the Big Island. Itʻs called one of the dirtiest beaches in the world.

Because of the currents at Kamilo, tons of trash wash up on the beach, 90 percent of which is estimated to be plastic, including trash from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  The plastics can reenter the oceans, endangering sealife that mistake it for food. So the beach is in dire need of cleaning.

“We did some research and we realized there was no machine around the world to do this kind of job," Duval said. "So we told to each other, ʻWe will invent it,' and we did it."

Kamilo Beach near the southernmost tip of the Big Island sees tons of trash because of the currents that deposit the debris on its sands.
Credit State Department of Land and Natural Resources

The machine acts like a giant vacuum cleaner, sucking up the bits of plastic and sand and dumping it in a tank of water. The plastic floats to the top and the sand sinks to the bottom. The sand can be returned to the beach.

During the last two weeks of April, the students tested a prototype of the machine on Kamilo Beach. He said the first test wasn’t going well, but the students fixed the problems, made some modifications and were happy with the results.

The engineering team left the prototype on the Big Island as a donation and hopes to raise money from public and private sources to continue work on further versions of the beach cleaning machine, including models that are smaller. 

To hear Duvalʻs full interview, visit The Conversationʻs webpage.