The atmospheric storm hitting California this week features a test for an experimental litter capture system meant to stop plastic bottles, diapers and other litter from spilling into the Pacific. He even captured a couch.
The solar-powered system, designed to operate mostly autonomously, was introduced in October at the mouth of Ballona Creek near Playa del Rey.
The Ballona Creek Trash Interceptor 007, one of several such machines created by Dutch nonprofit The Ocean Cleanup, is the first such device installed in the United States; Another 10 have been deployed around the world – eight are operational and two are down for maintenance – with another 10 expected to be deployed this year.
A November 2019 motion presented to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors described the partnership with Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch nonprofit, as a pilot project covering two storm seasons between October and April.
Ocean Cleanup is not compensated, but the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works is providing trash interceptor personnel at taxpayer expense, through the Los Angeles County Flood Fund with support from the Ocean Blue contractor.
During the pilot project, the interceptor is exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act, a law requiring environmental impact assessment for development or land use decisions.
After April 2024, the Los Angeles County Flood Control District will have the option of taking control of the interceptor at no cost, and “additional environmental review may be required,” the motion states.
The streets of Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, parts of Los Angeles, Culver City and unincorporated Los Angeles County “all feed into a storm drain system that moves water from the pavement to the stormwater drainage system and through Ballona Creek,” Los Angeles County Department of Public Works spokesman Kerjon Lee told The Times.
The nine-mile creek watershed spans an area containing some 1.5 million people, Lee said. The interceptor picks up floating debris a few hundred yards before it is released from the creek, and crews can then send the trash to a landfill.
About a mile upstream from the interceptor is the Lincoln Trash Dam, a net that has been in place for years to catch debris. “Removing trash is a very manual process” at Boom, Lee said.
The Lincoln trash boom requires workers with backhoes, shovels and other tools to pick up the accumulating trash. The net is also designed to come loose when the load is too heavy instead of tearing, which means that before the interceptor, heavy rains could cause all the accumulated waste to be thrown directly into the ocean.
“Ballona Creek is a long straight concrete channel,” said Ocean Cleanup communications director Joost Dubois. The current rains will test “the resistance of the system” with increased speed, because the Interceptor 007 faces the fastest water of all the systems they have deployed: “It’s an extreme test for us”, did he declare.
A video posted by a nonprofit organization claimed that during the first big rain event of the season, in November, the system collected more than 35,000 pounds of trash.
Much larger rainstorms around the New Year brought 2 to 5 inches of rain to the Los Angeles area, and this week could bring another 2 to 4 inches, according to the National Weather Service. These storms mean more runoff through Ballona Creek and potentially more debris.
Around Dec. 28, the interceptor lost power due to a technical problem with its solar panels, the county’s website for the project said. “Operational challenges are not entirely unexpected when deploying an innovative pilot project like the Interceptor 007,” the website says.
Lee said the overcast weather caused problems charging the interceptor’s solar batteries, so in anticipation of recent rains, workers ran a gas generator to recharge them. Dubois said operators hoped to learn from the setbacks encountered during the interceptor’s first season.
Ocean Cleanup began with a viral TedX talk and crowdfunding campaign that raised millions in donations. Since 2019, the project has deployed machines in an attempt to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California, and prevent waste carried by rivers from entering the oceans.
Their goal is to eliminate 90% of all plastic floating in the world’s oceans by 2040. Most funding for the project comes from private donors, Dubois said, and corporate sponsors include shipping giant Maersk and Coca- Cola.
Los Angeles Times