Canadian college students built a machine that could soon change Big Island beaches for the better

students in Quebec build machine for Big Island that can separate tiny plastics from sand

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Plastic debris washes ashore at Kamilo Point on Hawaii Island in seemingly endless amounts.

The Hawaii Wildlife Fund does its best to haul it away, but the tiny plastic pieces — some of them just millimeters in size — are hard to collect.

“These small pieces of plastic, we’re talking things that are from two inches down to very micro-sized pieces of plastic, tend to be what wildlife ingest,” says Bill Gilmartin, the non-profit’s research director.

Plastic pieces that wash ashore at Kamilo Point mix with sand.
Plastic pieces that wash ashore at Kamilo Point mix with sand. (Source: Hawaii Wildlife Fund)

As a final project, twelve engineering students at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec built a machine for the organization that isolates plastic pieces from the sandy beaches of the Big Island.

The students named their device Hoola One.

“We have a big vacuum that collects the mix of sand and plastics,” project member Jean-Felix Tremblay said.

Once the sand is dropped into a water tank, Tremblay says, the sand sinks and the plastic floats. That’s where the two are eventually separated.

The Hawaii Wildlife Fund is in the process of getting the machine to Hawaii to use at Kamilo Point.

"There's enough variation on that beach that I think we'll be able to get a good feel for how well the machine works," Gilmartin said.

The Sherbrooke students raised $50,000 to build the machine. It took them two years to perfect the prototype.

“We are pretty sure it will work, because we tested it for one month here in Quebec,” Tremblay said.

All they need now is the machine itself. The Hawaii Wildlife Fund has created a Facebook fundraiser page to help get the Hoola One to Hawaii.

“Our need now is to get it here, and we want to raise about $15,000 for the shipping and getting some of the students here,” Gilmartin said.

The students will then work with the non-profit for a few weeks to ensure the machine is functioning properly.

“We are all happy to have made something that can help not only Hawaii, but I think the world,” Tremblay said.

The Hawaii Wildlife Fund plans to use the Hoola One first at Kamilo Point, then eventually on other shorelines around the state, where micro-plastics are a problem.

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