Vacuums clean your carpet. Scientists hope they could also clean Hawaii beaches.

Updated: May. 8, 2019 at 4:37 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - More than 90 percent of the marine debris that washes ashore in Hawaii is plastic.

Scientists say tiny pieces of plastic ― or microplastic ― are choking out marine life and transporting invasive species to our shores.

But a college project could offer a solution.

Because of plastics washing onshore, Big Island’s Kamilo Point is dubbed one of the dirtiest beaches in the world ― a quality that captivated a class full of young engineers from Canada.

It’s what motivated them to build a 12-foot-tall vacuum that sifts tiny flecks of plastic from the sand.

“It’s going into a big tank of water. The plastic floats and the sand is sinking. So that way we can separate the two,” said engineer Jean-Felix Tremblay.

The vacuum is called Hoola One, and Iit just wrapped up a two-week test run.

[Read more: In alarming discovery, scientists find plastic in the stomachs of baby fish off Hawaii]

Now that the machine is fine-tuned, engineers say it’s capable of cleaning three gallons of sand a minute.

During the trial run, it collected 230 pounds of plastic ― a task that typically requires tremendous manpower.

“Probably for the last decade we’ve been using concrete mixing trays and saltwater and just floating things out,” said Megan Lamson Leatherman.

The prototype cost a little over $50,000 to create. All of the money was raised by crowdfunding.

Students gifted the machine to members of the Hawaii Wildlife Fund.

After the Kamilo Point clean-up is complete, officials say they want to use the machine to eliminate plastics from beaches on Maui, Kauai and Oahu.

And more machines are in the works.

Three recent graduates are now working on the project full-time with a goal of downsizing the vacuum and replicating it so it can be used on beaches around the world.

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