Rubbish idea nets $2 million in crowdsourcing

It’s rare that entrepreneurs hope their product becomes redundant, but for Pete Ceglinski, who spent a decade of travelling around the world witnessing the horrors of water pollution, that’s the goal.

“Nothing would make me happier,” the co-founder of the Seabin Project told the Herald.

The industrial designer, who spent 12 years helping develop yachts for events such as the America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race, said he was compelled to use his talents for an environmental purpose after seeing how dirty bodies of water in Europe were.

“The original thought of how it started was; if we have rubbish bins on land, why don’t we put them in the water? Everywhere we went around the world we saw the same problem,” he said.

“In Australia, there’s a lot less littering in the water than in Spain or France. We just found there was a much higher ingrained level of respect for the environment in Australia, New Zealand and Nordic countries.”

“Our whole emphasis is about giving information to the consumer”: Dr Mark Browne at his washing machine lab in Manly Vale.

Seabins has developed the technology, but the concept is pretty simple: large bins are dropped in bodies of water and suck up all the rubbish.

According to their estimates, each one of its floating Seabins collects 90,000 plastic bags, 35,700 disposable cups and 16,500 plastic bottles.

Along with co-founder Andrew Turton, they “essentially used up a house deposit” while living in Spain and developing the Seabin Project in 2015.

“I quit my job and just gave it a hundred and ten per cent with this,” Mr Ceglinski said.

Within months, a crowd-funding campaign raised $350,000. They then expanded into France before announcing their return to Australia earlier this year.

Since the announcement, another round of crowdfunding raised $1.8 million from about 1800 investors. There are now six bins scattered around the Greater Sydney area, with more to come.

He said that when it came to addressing what else can be done to fight water pollution, the best time to start was yesterday, and the second-best time is today.

“The plastics in our oceans just come from not understanding an advanced material. If we used it properly, we wouldn’t be throwing it away and it wouldn’t be in the ocean.”

John Gemmill, the chief executive of the Clean Ocean Foundation, said while innovative technologies that help reduce pollution are welcome, one of the biggest contributors to water pollution in Sydney was the treatment of wastewater itself.

“It’s a bit like a Tesla compared to a Holden EH,” he said of NSW water treatment compared with Victoria’s.

Mr Gemmill said that a re-investment in the desalination plant at Kurnell in Sydney’s south was a mistake.

“The technology for desalination can be used for wastewater – the only difference is that saltwater is really concentrated, so it requires approximately five times as much energy or pressure to push that water through that filter. Wastewater is actually fairly clean, believe it or not,” he said.

“The issue with that, of course, is that a lot of people are squeamish about drinking recycled water. And that’s held Australia back for too long.”

Unexpected rainfall in early March has given the state government an extra two years to plan for the city’s water security, which could include expanding both desalination and water recycling.