Solutions Summit November 2021

by Michael D. Pulliam


Young German architect Marcella Hansch leads the design and deployment of trash-eating barges to remove tons of plastic and other litter from the world’s rivers and lakes every day.

As the thesis for her master’s degree in architecture, Hansch decided not to design buildings but instead work on removing plastic from the ocean; this mission was very close to her heart. Her designs for enormous cleanup vessels that collect trash and small plastic particles for fuel garnered international attention and earned her the prestigious 2016 Ecodesign award from the German federal government. She also attracted criticism from the environmental activism community. “Experts told me, if you really want to make a difference, you’re too late when you go into the oceans,” Hansch said. “When your basement has flooded, you want to turn off the tap first before you mop up the floor.”

So she redirected her focus of trash removal to find a more effective area to clean up. “About 80 percent of trash reaches the oceans through the rivers,” she says. “They are basically the spigots that carry the debris into the seas.” Hansch redesigned the boats to be smaller and smarter, aiming to work in rivers and lakes. Teaming up with a biologist and a journalist, she launched the Everwave Foundation in 2018. Since then, the team has been directing waterway cleanup operations around the world.

A ten-day mission in the Danube River yielded over 7,000 tons of floating plastic. A deployment to the Drina dam in Bosnia-Herzgovina cleared up vast garbage patches that had shut down the hydroelectric plant. During July’s catastrophic floods in Northern Germany, one of Hansch’s boats helped remove wood and other debris from the disaster area. “We go where we are needed the most,” Hansch explains. “Especially in the border regions, nobody feels responsible for the trash.” They’ve sent barges around Europe and are planning cleanups in Malaysia, Indonesia, India, and some countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

The boats host an automated conveyor belt system, cameras, a drone, and Artificial Intelligence, which all work together to automatically sort recyclable and salvageable debris from garbage. The system also identifies trash sources, such as item types and brand names, to help researchers and activists hold polluting corporations responsible.

Everwave gets requests to hold river cleanups all over the world, many more than their small donation-based team of 15 staff can handle. They are currently focused on scaling up the foundation and creating cleanup platforms that local people can construct and semi-permanently anchor in trash hotspots. While Hansch wants her work to grow and make waves worldwide, her true vision is that cleanups won’t be needed at all; that we will turn off the spouts.

Sources: Reasons to be Cheerful,


The agroecology approach to farming combines high crop yields with high carbon capture and limited use of pesticides and other chemical agents, bridging large-scale conventional and local organic farming.

Many readers may be aware that some of the world’s largest producers of greenhouse gases are high-yield industrial agriculture operations. To try and counteract global warming and other undesirable impacts of conventional agriculture, many farmers turn to smaller organic practices, even if that sometimes means smaller yields per area unit. Coming up in the middle is agroecology, which sees small-scale farmers using modern science and local knowledge for sustainable high-yield growing.

According to a report by National Geographic, agroecology incorporates ‘trees and shrubs into crops and livestock fields; solar-powered drip irrigation, which delivers water directly to plant roots; intercropping, which involves planting two or more crops near each other to maximize the use of light, water, and nutrients; and the use of green manures, which are quick-growing plants that help prevent erosion and replace nutrients in the soil.’

These techniques and others maximize species diversity and natural pest control, protect soil health, limit the need for fertilizers, sequester carbon in the ground, reduce transportation emissions, help crops withstand severe weather, and insulate communities from global price shocks, all while producing more food per unit area than industrial agriculture.

A former UN food specialist said agroecology “is what is needed in a world of limited resources.”

Sources: Beautiful Solutions