A chat about the MAELSTROM app

We have talked with Giorgio Betteto (GEES Recycling) and Martina Bocci (Venice Lagoon Plastic Free) about the MAELSTROM app: how does it work and how it can be used for a transparent process of circular economy?

A few days ago, we have introduced you to the MAELSTROM app video, featuring its functionalities for marine litter tracking and monitoring after it has been collected from the seabed or rivers and during the entire recycling process. The testing phase for the app was concluded last December; the app is now ready to be scaled during clean-ups and marine litter removal operations by the two MAELSTROM’s technologies  – the Bubble Barrier, to be soon installed in Northern Portugal and the Seabed Cleaning Platform already deployed and under testing procedures in the Venice Lagoon.

We had a chat with Giorgio Betteto, from our partner GEES Recycling, and Martina Bocci, from our partner Venice Lagoon Plastic Free, both in charge of the development of the MAELSTROM App, to learn more about its main features and how it can be of support for marine litter practitioners.

At the European level there are several supporting apps for tracking and monitoring marine litter: how does the one developed by MAELSTROM differs from the existing apps?

Dr Betteto: Our app was born out of a practical industrial experience where it is essential to track the marine litter collected and to be recycled. We had to understand which were the components within an item (“what is in this product?”) and how it would behave in an innovative and therefore new recycling process. The MAELSTROM app not only tracks the items collected and its composition but it also monitors the entire recycling process, providing information on the processes by which the collected items go through before becoming new materials or objects (es. fishing nets are recycled and become part of the material with which we at GEES build outdoors furnitures, like tables and chairs).

Could you provide us more information on the different technical features of the MAELSTROM App?

Dr Betteto: The App is composed of three modules: the Monitoring module records data regarding the type and location of marine litter with a specific area; the Clean-Up module records the quantity and type of litter collected so that it can be identified and sorted for recycling purposes; the Tracking module follows litter items from the place they were collected and through the recycling processes they undergo before becoming a new material or object. All modules were designed in compliance and integration with the European Marine Observation and Data Network (EMODNET) parameters.

Dr. Betteto mentioned the EMODNET parameters, which are worth spending a few more words on: what are they and why are they important for the integration of data collected with the MAELSTROM app into the European system?

Dr Bocci: EMODNET is a European database that collects useful data to describe various aspects of the state of Europe’s seas and the related human activities and impacts happening around those ecosystems. Marine litter is one of the indicators of the EMODNET database for which the MAELSTROM team can give a contribution by sharing data thought the MAELSTROM App. The EMODNET database serves as a reference for all the countries of the European Union and is used to compose a unified picture, to compare data from different localities and to provide useful information to guide the sustainable development of economic activities and the improvement of regulations. The data are freely accessible by any citizen and researcher. It is important that as much data as possible flow into this database, to make it increasingly complete and keep it updated over time!

How is this integration between the data collected by the MAELSTROM app and EMODNET made possible?

The MAELSTROM app makes it possible to record data on collected litter data according to the specifications required by EMODNET: the MAELSTROM app uses European standardized coding for the different types of litter. In addition, the dedicated web portal to which the app is hooked allows for the input of the accompanying information required at the European level (e.g., beach characteristics data). From the web portal it is also possible to download data files that match the format required by the EDMONET database. In order to make one’s own data available it is necessary to be accredited with the European Directory of Marine Organization (EDMO).

What have been, so far, the main types of litter collected as part of the project?

Dr Betteto: We have complete statistics, but in brief we can say that in the clean-ups we have collected about 40% packaging, bags and bottles; 35% fisheries and aquaculture waste, and the rest are artifacts such as buoys, boat parts and construction waste,.

And how will these collected items be recycled? For example, what “new life” will plastic items have? What about the other types of waste (e.g. bulky or non-recyclable waste)?

Dr Betteto: Some litter, such as packaging and tires, are subject to mandatory collection and recycling consortia procedures, to whom we deliver the collected items through authorized companies in the area. At Gees Recycling, we recover and recycle artifacts made of fiberglass such as boat parts, floats, buoys, nets and mussel socks. The items that we we are unable to recycle are sent to our project partner MAKEEN, which through a thermochemical pyrolysis process will obtain new chemicals bases to produce new plastics.

One last question: what are the future challenges for the app, from a technical point of view but also from a practical point of view?

Dr Bocci: The app’s functionalities already allow for the entire management of the marine litter cycle: it monitors its presence in the environment, records data on litter collected during clean-ups and removal operations, tracks the transfer process to recycling centers and documents the recycling and transformation processes. The increasing use and application of all the App features will increasingly improve the management of marine litter, with the overall aim to cancel its release into the environment.

It is now important to promote the use of the app as a tool for monitoring marine litter and to spread its use among public agencies, associations, and research institutes through targeted collaboration agreements. For example, after contributing to its development, the Venice Lagoon Plastic Free is now using the MAELSTROM App during its regular clean-ups activities in the Venice area with citizens and schools, collecting data and sharing it with the EMODNET portal.