• The Enviro Buggy vacuum cleaner sieves out microplastics and picks up normal, larger pieces of rubbish on a beach in Cape Town, South Africa.
  • The same work would take humans days to achieve.
  • Wildlife can get entangled in waste or eat it, as they can’t distinguish between it and real food.

A giant blue four-wheeled beach 'vacuum cleaner' is being used to keep a Cape Town beach plastic free.

Called the Enviro Buggy, it is helping to sieve out microplastics and pick up normal, larger pieces of rubbish from the Mother City's Lagoon Beach.

It can be seen trundling along the soft white sand, followed by a hoard of 50 mask-wearing beach cleaners carrying bags and picking up litter in its wake.

South Africa beach-friendly vacuum cleaner Cape Town's Lagoon Beach microplastics
The enviro buggy on lagoon beach, Cape Town.
Image: Jay Caboz

The Enviro Buggy is the brainchild of conservationist group #SeaTheBiggerPicture Ocean Initiative (#STBP) and engineers from Matriarch Generic Engineering.

South Africa beach-friendly vacuum cleaner Cape Town's Lagoon Beach microplastics
The enviro buggy sucking up debris on the beach.
Image: Jay Caboz

“The Enviro Buggy was born out of a necessity. We were fed up with trying to pick up so many tiny degraded particles of plastic. It was near impossible by hand, even with a large-scale crew,” said Tash Krauss, a conservationist at STBP.

So they built the Enviro Buggy to suck up pesky microplastics, pieces of plastic that have broken down and now are smaller than 5mm, sieving them out from ordinary beach sand. It would take humans days to do the same using manual methods.

South Africa beach-friendly vacuum cleaner Cape Town's Lagoon Beach microplastics
Trash and sand picked up by the Enviro Buggy
Image: Jay Caboz

“Plastic doesn’t biodegrade, it just gets smaller and smaller. The idea behind the buggy is that with a strong vacuum suction you can suck up large amounts of sand particles that include these small parts of plastic particles. Then sand filters out ideally leaving just the plastic behind. Which we hope will make it a much more efficient cleaning method”, said Krauss.

South Africa beach-friendly vacuum cleaner Cape Town's Lagoon Beach microplastics
Volunteer beach cleaners working on Lagoon Beach, Cape Town.
Image: Jay Caboz

Along with helping to sieve out microplastics, the Enviro Buggy is also designed to pick up normal, larger pieces of rubbish as well - which the team hopes will help beach cleaners pick up more rubbish faster.

Litter is a big problem for wildlife because they get entangled in it. This can lead to a slow painful death by starvation or suffocation for many creatures.

South Africa beach-friendly vacuum cleaner Cape Town's Lagoon Beach microplastics
A bird caught in plastic entanglement. Gathered during the #SeaTheBiggerPicture beach cleanup at Lagoon Beach.
Image: Jay Caboz

Animals also end up eating the plastic as they can’t distinguish between the litter and real food. This could possibly contaminate humans when they consume the wildlife that eat it. Researchers warn the effect of microplastic ingestion on human health is still largely unknown.

South African researchers have found almost 90% of South Africa's marine plastic pollution originates from its own river systems. This amounts to between 15,000 and 40,000 tonnes of marine plastic per year which ends up on South Africa’s beaches.

The team of conservationists hope the Enviro Buggy will go a long way toward helping beach cleaners suck up the problematic waste that washes up on South African shorelines, while creating awareness with this curious contraption.

South Africa beach-friendly vacuum cleaner Cape Town's Lagoon Beach microplastics
Tash Krauss, a conservationist at #SeaTheBiggerPicture.
Image: Jay Caboz

Once the engine is roaring and the Enviro Buggy moves, it's almost cathartic to sit back and watch it suck up stray cigarette butts, straws, and bits of polystyrene. It's almost as if you were at home vacuuming your own carpet and not the hard to walk on soft white sand of Cape Town.

It’s still however got a few environmental obstacles it needs to overcome to be well and truly beach ready.

While it's capable of driving on wet sand, a team of 3 needs to give it a helping hand on softer parts of the beach– as the wheels get stuck. It also requires a ramp to access the sand, which might not be ideal to access certain beaches in South Africa.

South Africa beach-friendly vacuum cleaner Cape Town's Lagoon Beach microplastics
The Enviro Buggy on Lagoon Beach, Cape Town.
Image: Jay Caboz

“We loved the idea and got straight into designing it. Our small engineering company is based in Johannesburg and a long way from the beaches to test. But with their help on what they wanted out of this, we eventually designed the buggy,” said Luigi Faccio, engineer Matriarch Generic Engineering, and the man who designed it.

South Africa beach-friendly vacuum cleaner Cape Town's Lagoon Beach microplastics
Volunteer beach cleaners working on Lagoon Beach, Cape Town.
Image: Jay Caboz

While its early days for the Enrivo Buggy, it shows that human ingenuity can go a long way toward making beaches cleaner - one giant sucking vacuuming cleaner at a time. The team is eager to make progress and is looking for funding.