Here’s what the New Bedford Garbage Skimmer catches


NEW BEDFORD – Greg Pimentel and Shay Ribeiro leaned over a folding table on the platform at Pier 3. There was a brown pile of organic material dotted with the vivid, artificial colors of the plastic.

For over an hour, they sorted gloved hands through multiple piles of cigarette butts, food wrappers, plastic shards and other human waste. When they were done, they threw everything in a barrel.

“If more people took care of or disposed of the garbage properly, we would only have organic material here,” said Pimentel, director of community outreach at the Community Boating Center.

Empty liquor bottles are some of the items Greg Pimentel and Shay Ribeiro of the Community Boating Center removed from the skimmer they set up at Pier 3 in New Bedford.

The material they pulled came from the garbage skimmer first installed in 2019. For 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the floating box engulfed the harbor water and all of its trash.

The skimmer is named Golden and just like the Pixar robot, Wall-E, which cleans the Earth one piece of trash at a time, the Water Skimmer sucks up human trash to make New Bedford Harbor a little cleaner.

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Walley was installed through a partnership between the New Bedford Port Authority, the Community Boating Center and Clean Ocean Access, but it has been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was relocated in April 2021 and has removed around 4,000 pounds of organic and inorganic debris since 2019, including some personal protective equipment (PPE) more recently.

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Pimentel said that organic matter is also removed as it acts like a sponge and soaks up oils.

Max Kraimer, program manager at Clean Ocean Access, said the skimmer could remove up to 150 pounds of trash per day and that while it is not the solution to plastic pollution, he said it could educate people on the reuse or proper disposal of plastic and other waste. .

Community nautical center staff and volunteers empty the skimmer at least once a week. During the recent emptying, Pimentel and Ribeiro, an instructor at the center, counted around 400 pieces of plastic and 500 cigarette butts.

Cigarettes contain plastic filters and are the most common type of waste captured by the protein skimmer.

The Ocean Conservancy, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit, has raised over 2.4 million cigarette butts with plastic filters along the world’s beaches and waterways, according to its 2018 report.

Just like other plastic or microplastic waste, cigarette filters can be ingested by marine life.

Among everything the protein skimmer gathered – be it dead birds, tiny shrimp, or an unknown tiny plastic sphere – Pimentel said the sheer volume of the cigarette butts was what shocked him. more.

The skimmer also grabbed gloves, masks, plastic foam, pinch bottles, e-cigarette cartridges, fishing rope and needles. When they find sharp objects, they call the New Bedford Police Department, who dispatch officers to help them dispose of them properly and safely.

The skimmer will be in the water until November. Those who want to know more can stop by the pier on AHA! nights, held the second Thursday of each month, and either watch or help sort from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The city also offers a few tools to help consumers know how to dispose of waste, including a “recyclopedia” and online waste sorting game.

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Pimentel said that people’s behavior is at the root of this marine plastic problem and that one of the main goals of the skimmer operation is to educate the community.

“I hope this will inspire change,” he said. “If we disposed of the trash properly, recycled and didn’t throw things away, we wouldn’t see what we see in this protein skimmer.”

Standard-Times reporter Anastasia E. Lennon can be reached at [email protected] You can follow her on Twitter at @ aelennon1. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Standard-Times today.

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