Find out how The Great Bubble Barrier co-founder Saskia Studer dedicates her graphic design talent and creative skills to an award-winning solution to collect plastic from rivers and canals!
Once upon a time, at a bar
“I’ve always thought I should be doing something about the plastic problem. But the moment when I realised I could actually make an impact was about three years ago, one night at a bar, over a beer! Anne Marieke Eveleens, Francis Zoet and I were wondering why there wasn’t such a thing as a wall of bubbles to collect plastic waste in waterways. It sounded like a great idea – as many bar-born ideas do. But unlike many ideas hatched over drinks, it turned out to still be valuable the next day: the technology existed, but it hadn’t been applied to the collection of plastic waste. We were so surprised by that realisation that we never even asked ‘Are we doing this?’ We just got started!”
A tech-driven solution that tells a story
“Our solution itself is quite simple: a perforated tube on a riverbed or canal floor blows a stream of air bubbles upwards. The bubbles form a barrier, so that the natural water current propels stray plastic up towards the surface and outwards, where we can easily collect it. That way, our Bubble Barrier helps prevent land-based plastic from ending up in our oceans. But we are aware that it doesn’t solve the actual problem: we don’t want to fish out the same bottles over and over again. We see the plastic that we gather as an educational tool to tell a story and ask the bigger question: how do we prevent the plastic from ending up in our waterways in the first place? Data collection, awareness and policy reform are all essential in answering that question, and we are actively working on those areas. That is what makes The Great Bubble Barrier more than just a tech solution.”
It’s people that make great ideas happen
“It may sound like a cliché, but I’m most proud of the people behind and around our company: the team and everyone who supports us. They make it possible for us to implement and scale our solution. We even get requests to collaborate from people abroad who want to implement Bubble Barriers locally. It’s inspiring to see how everyone around us becomes invested in making it happen. The tipping point came when the pilot we ran with Deltares confirmed our proof-of-concept. The plastic went right where we were hoping it would go and I thought: ‘This is it!’ It felt like a new baby was born.”
Anyone can contribute to crystal-clear water
“It might seem like we had an ingenious idea that just came to us. But success is only a little bit of luck and a whole lot of perseverance. Once we came up with the concept, it took us almost a year to get it to the next level. We did a ton of research and talked to many people, but it was hard to find the right tools we needed to prototype our solution. Then, by a twist of fate, we found out about a challenge scouting for solutions to plastic in rivers. Three months later, we had won it! The prize was a pilot, but it also introduced us to the right networks – and it all took off from there. My advice for anyone who wants to become a changemaker: don’t worry if you haven’t found your golden egg yet or if you feel you don’t have the right academic background. Go to lectures, talk to people, share your vision, exchange insights, and find for the roots of the problem you’d like to solve. In short: don’t give up and you’ll get there!”
More about changemaker Saskia
Saskia Studer is co-founder and chief creative officer of The Great Bubble Barrier. She studied Advertising and Graphic Design at the Willem de Kooning Academy, where she began exploring how design relates to and influences socio-political, cultural, business, and tech issues. Saskia’s ability to translate complex matters into strategic, creative concepts helped her startup win competitions and grants, such as the Plastic Free Rivers Makathon of PWN and Rijkswaterstaat and the Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge’s grand prize of €500,000!
Connect with Saskia on LinkedIn.