What do retail, robots, and the Great Lakes have in common? Meijer Inc. yesterday announced that it is participating in the Great Lakes Plastic Cleanup Program with robots and drones. The Midwestern retailer said BeBot and Pixie Drone will help clean up beaches and waterways in partnership with the Council of the Great Lakes Region, or CGLR.
“It is a privilege to live near the Great Lakes, which inherently comes with the responsibility to protect them,” said Rick Keyes, president and CEO of Meijer. “Contributing to the conservation of these invaluable waterways is important to the wellbeing of our ecosystems, economy, and the communities we serve.”
Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Meijer operates 262 supercenters and grocery stores throughout Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, and Wisconsin. A privately-owned and family-operated company since 1934, the retailer claimed that it pioneered the “one-stop shopping” concept. It now offers fresh produce and meat, apparel, toys, pets, and electronics. Meijer also has pharmacies and garden centers.
Robots to tackle freshwater pollution
The Great Lakes Plastic Cleanup (GLPC) initiative said it is the single largest deployment of innovative, eco-friendly devices across multiple states in the Great Lakes, which encompass the largest surface freshwater system in the world.
Meijer made a $1 million donation to the CGLR Foundation, a charitable arm of the CGLR in the U.S., earlier this year. The funding supports the deployment of the BeBot and Pixie drones. The CGLR and Pollution Probe began the GLPC's plastic capture and recovery initiative in 2020.
This week, Meijer held a press conference at Pere Marquette Beach in Muskegon that included a live demonstration of the equipment:
- BeBot: 4ocean's remote-controlled, solar- and battery-powered, beach-cleaning robot. It can clean 32,000 sq. ft. (2,972.8 sq. m or 0.7 acres) per hour. The electric robot can rakes through the sand without altering the environment. It can also collect plastic litter and other waste – such as bottles, cans, food wrappers, cigarette butts – in a basket for disposal and recycling.
- Pixie Drone: A remote-controlled water drone that can collect up to 200 lb. (90.7 kg) of material per use. It will navigate through marinas and other waterways to collect plastic litter and other waste debris floating on the surface of the water. The robot will also collect other water data, such as temperature, pH, salinity, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen.
Grand Valley State University reps to operate equipment
Representatives from the Grand Valley State University Annis Water Resources Institute (GVSU-AWRI) will operate the equipment along the Muskegon lakeshore.
“Microplastics have become one of the most pressing issues facing our waterways, both in the Great Lakes and on a global scale,” said Dr. Al Steinman, the Allen and Helen Hunting Research Professor at GVSU-AWRI. “We are both excited and honored to be part of Meijer's initiative to fund new technologies to address this problem.”
“It is critical to resolve the microplastic dilemma, not only for the ecology of our local waters, but also for the economy of our coastal communities, who visit and recreate on our beaches and lakes with the expectation they are clean and pollutant-free,” he added. “The BeBot and Pixie Drone will help ensure those expectations are met.”
AWRI is a multidisciplinary research organization with GVSU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Its mission is to integrate research, education, and outreach to enhance and preserve freshwater resources.
“The city of Muskegon is thrilled to participate in the Great Lakes Plastic Cleanup Program and serve as home to the BeBot and Pixie Drone, which will strengthen stewardship of our precious waterways and majestic Pere Marquette Beach,” stated Muskegon Mayor Ken Johnson.
“We're excited to see these innovative devices in action, and our community is grateful for the collaboration of Meijer, the GVSU Annis Water Resources Institute, and the Council of the Great Lakes Region in advancing this eco-friendly initiative,” he said.
CGLR collaborators to clean up Great Lakes
Beginning this month, Meijer and the CGLR will lead projects at busy beaches, marinas, and waterways in Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin with a variety of community, state, and environmental non-governmental organization (NGO) partners.
The Council of the Great Lakes Region includes the Council of the Great Lakes Region USA, an Ohio-based trade association; the CGLR Foundation, an Ohio-based public charity; and the Council of the Great Lakes Region Canada, a not-for-profit corporation.
The CGLR said it is “leading a new era of economic growth, environmental protection, and individual well-being by building the region's long-term competitiveness and sustainability today.”
The Great Lakes Plastic Cleanup is a joint initiative of the CGLR and Pollution Probe that is supported by a network of funders and collaborators. It said it uses innovative capture and clean-up technology to remove plastics and other litter from Lake Ontario to Lake Superior and everywhere in between.
Through research, outreach, and education, the GLPC is gathering data on litter entering waterways and identifying how government, industry, and consumers can work together to reduce, reuse, and recycle material waste.
Meijer works at the store side
Meijer is also working on numerous store-level projects, including one with the CGLR to install stormwater-filtration systems at select supercenters. The gutter bins will capture and prevent trash, debris, microplastics, and other harmful pollutants from flowing into nearby waterways. Each bin captures hundreds of pounds of pollution per year, said the retailer.
The company is in the midst of two additional stormwater projects to retrofit the parking lots at its Traverse City and Benton Harbor supercenters with green infrastructure. Meijer is continuing its partnership with the Alliance for the Great Lakes on a handful of beach cleanup efforts.
“The Great Lakes are an area of immense value, and we are proud to be hands-on in the protection of these local waterways,” said Erik Petrovskis, director of environmental compliance and sustainability at Meijer.
“The Great Lakes, which are at the heart of the bi-national Great Lakes economic region, are a globally significant natural resource,” said Mark Fisher, president and CEO of the CGLR.
“By partnering with companies like Meijer, which shares CGLR's strong commitment to building the region's future sustainability and economy today, we are able to keep our beaches and waterways clean and free of plastic litter as we work to ensure the materials we use as consumers never become waste by adopting a circular-economy mindset in the region,” Fisher said.