A worker at Port of Antwerp uses a 'vacuum cleaner' to remove plastic trash from the Galgeschoor nature reserve in Antwerp, Belgium, on October 7, 2020. (REUTERS/Francois Lenoir)
Engineers have built a giant 'vacuum cleaner' to rid a Belgian nature reserve of millions of pieces of plastic litter too small to collect by hand.
The Galgeschoor reserve, a site of mudflats and salt marshes in the port city of Antwerp, has become riddled with plastic particles that built up over years from litter desposited by industry and towns along the river Scheldt.
Port authorities last year launched a competition to design a solution to decontaminate the area, which is home to endangered bird species.
The winner: a huge hoover, dubbed the 'Nul-o-Plastic' and developed by Envisan, the environment division of maritime infrastructure company Jan De Nul Group.
"It's basically a vacuum cleaner which is really smart (and) adapted to this circumstances," engineer Tom Van Vooren, the project's coordinator, told Reuters.
The machine's rubber tires limit soil disruption, and its suction mechanism is designed to avoid damaging plants.
The aim is to pull roughly 7.5 tons of plastic pellets out of the reserve. A first test concludes later this month.
Currently, less than a third of Europe's plastic waste is recycled. To help curb litter, the European Union is planning new rules to ensure all packaging can be reused or recycled, and will ban single-use plastic cutlery and straws from 2021.