Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2020RI208B

The Applicability of South Korean Aquatic Litter Management Strategies to Rhode Island Freshwater Bodies

Institute: Rhode Island
Year Established: 2020 Start Date: 2020-03-01 End Date: 2021-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $22,743 Total Non-Federal Funds: $45,497

Principal Investigators: Elizabeth Mendenhall

Abstract: Plastics enter the oceans because of mismanagement of waste that travels via inland waterways, wastewater outflows, wind, and tides. Aquatic plastic pollution is a complex problem that requires multifaceted solutions to mitigate and remediate leakage into the oceans. This research aims to develop strategies and methods that can help stem the pace of plastic debris flows into the aquatic environment.This project is aligned with national and international needs, especially the knowledge gaps associated with the types of waste management systems that can capture aquatic debris without harming the aquatic environment. Through an investigation of South Korea’s marine litter management (MLM) strategies, I will determine the impact of trash boom operations on the aquatic environment and communities in comparison to other debris-capturing technology. The results from this research will lead to a clearer understanding of MLM, as well as introduce the possibility of installing aquatic debris capture technology in the Providence River.Clean Ocean Access (COA) – a Rhode Island non-profit focused on eliminating marine debris and improving ocean health – has taken measures to combat plastic pollution by installing six small-scale debris collectors, which have collected over 33, 235 pounds of plastic since 2016 out of Rhode Island’s harbors. The efforts of non-profit organizations like COA are limited but important, and dependent on private funding. And, without effective and possibly more capture technology, Rhode Island’s coastal areas will continue to experience costly interactions with marine plastics.Developed countries such as South Korea have invested in MLM strategies for their coastal areas. Like the U.S., South Korea relies on coastal areas and rivers for tourism, commerce, fisheries, and transportation. In the 1990s, South Korean engineers developed a unique system for managing marine debris by installing containment booms at the mouths of rivers. The booms are located near areas of high population density and manufacturing industries. The first trash boom was installed (USD 4.8M) in Incheon City in 2003 by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries; by 2010, five additional booms were installed throughout the South Korea. The technology was evaluated to be cost-effective, efficient, and accepted by most stakeholders, and it can serve as a potential case study for cities around the world. Also, the topography of South Korea offers a strategic opportunity to examine the flow of plastics in semi-urbanized coastal and riverine environments.This project aims to answer three questions: Do fixed trash booms have more potential – superior capture, efficient design, and cost-effectiveness – to combat aquatic debris that enters and leaves riverine environments compared to other technologies such as smaller-scale debris collectors? How do the smaller-scale debris collectors impact stakeholder responses compared to the South Korean trash boom system? Should the South Korean model be prioritized in Rhode Island to improve aquatic-debris collection?Our methods support an overall analytical approach to understand and identify possible knowledge gaps concerning South Korea’s trash boom systems while measuring their feasibility for application in the Providence River. Our research will utilize data collected from literature coding, in-person interviews, and public information about waste management systems from Rhode Island and South Korea. We will perform a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT) analysis to characterize Rhode Island’s and South Korea’s MLM models through literature analyses and interviews with stakeholders. Results will assist in developing procedures to manage plastic pollution. Furthermore, we will develop a quantitative framework from COA and South Korean data to estimate the annual input of plastics – with respect to population growth and time – that have leaked from coastal rivers in South Korea and New England in the absence of remediation technology. We will consider the feasibility of the South Korean trash booms applied to the Providence River, and calculate the costs of installing trash booms and the amount of plastic waste that could potentially be remediated. The framework analysis we propose is a potentially transformative tool to evaluate and calculate the feasibility of aquatic debris technology, as well as MLM strategies, in Rhode Island waterways.