Fourth of July festivities left the beaches of Lake Tahoe buried in trash, though it’s not as if they were pristine before the holiday weekend. As visitorship has skyrocketed in recent years, so has the amount of litter. On July 5, 2022, however, a beach cleaning robot came to the rescue.
BEBOT is an all-electric, solar and battery powered beach cleaner, operated by remote control. The robot sifts through four inches of sand, removing pieces of trash as small as 5mm by 5mm. BEBOT has the capacity to clean over 3,000 sq/meters of beach per hour. The robot also picks up native materials such as pine needles and rocks, but the Eco-Clean Solutions team reintroduces these to the sand.
Eco-Clean Solutions, a Tahoe-based nonprofit, launched the zero-emissions robot, called BEBOT, in their second test-run that day. This event took place in partnership with the Tahoe environmental organization, Keep Tahoe Blue. A group of volunteers scoured a 500-square-foot piece of Nevada Beach, collecting all the trash they could see, which was 30 small pieces. Then it was BEBOT’s turn. BEBOT picked up over 300 additional pieces of trash, items that lurk below the surface. “You don't want to walk on the beach anymore without having shoes on,” says JT Chevallier, Co-Founder and CSO of Eco-Clean Solutions. Demonstrating that human volunteers can only do so much, BEBOT promises to be a crucial part of keeping litter off the beaches and from eventually winding up in the lake.
“We see ourselves as the last line of defense before this material further breaks down and enters into the lake,” Chevallier says. In May, scuba divers pulled over 25,000 pounds of trash from Lake Tahoe. A concern about trash making its way into the lake is that the material can break down over time and become microplastics that are harmful to humans and aquatic life.
JB Harris, Founder and CEO of Eco-Clean Solutions, was inspired to solve the trash problem because he wanted his son to enjoy the beaches of Lake Tahoe just as he has for the past 15 years as a resident. Harris noticed that when he would take his son to the beach, he was spending more time picking up trash than enjoying the outdoors.
Harris founded Eco-Clean Solutions in 2020 and reached out to Chevallier, his best friend and fellow longtime resident of the Lake Tahoe area, in 2021 to come aboard. They partnered with the French company Poralu Marine and its brand The Searial Cleaners, which manufactures BEBOT.
According to Chevallier, BEBOT does not endanger turtle nesting habitats. The displacement of its weight means that BEBOT does not have an impact on beach erosion either. For those concerned that a robot roaming the shores will disrupt serene beach days, there’s no need to worry — BEBOT is relatively quiet.
Following the July 5 test, Eco-Clean Solutions had two other successful demonstrations of BEBOT’s capabilities this summer. There will be a few more deployments this year, including one over Labor Day weekend, and once BEBOT proves its effectiveness, Chevallier hopes to add a few more BEBOTs to the ranks.
Eco-Clean Solutions is currently the only distributor of BEBOT in the Western United States. Chevallier hopes that people from other locales will take notice and want to replicate the efforts on their own beaches. Eco-Clean Solutions can sell and service this technology to people and organizations in other areas.
The organization has a couple of other devices in the works. The Pixie Drone, which lands on the water, and the CollecThor, which attaches to docks, will both target floating trash. These are in final R&D and Chevallier is hoping to deploy them in 2023.
Eco-Clean Solutions’ vision for preserving Tahoe doesn’t stop at its technology. “If we’re the last line of defense, the first line of defense is for people who recreate in Lake Tahoe to be stewards,” Chevallier says. He hopes that as beachgoers witness this robot roaming the shores they will start to ask questions, and BEBOT’s efforts will inspire them to clean up their trash. “We try to create as much environmental impact as we can, but we also want environmental education and stewardship to come out of that,” Chevallier says. “Lake Tahoe is absolutely a magical place, and I hope everyone can share the same experiences that I've had.”