Testing Our Waters

Collab class at the Parsons School of Design trawls the Gowanus canal in Brooklyn.

Littering, illegal dumping and poor fishing practices dump the equivalent of a garbage truck full of plastics into our oceans every minute. At that rate, experts estimate that more plastics than fish will inhabit our oceans by 2050. For those left aghast by viral videos documenting the devastating toll of plastics on fish, sea turtles, birds and other marine wildlife, Testing our Waters offers a crowdsourced solution to track trends in pollution, report findings, and build the case for policy changes that protect our commons for future generations.



In collaboration with community partners 5Gyres and NyNjBayKeeper and with funding from the Tishman Environment and Design Center and the Autodesk Foundation, New School students and faculty member Barent Roth set out in 2016 to develop a multi-pronged, design centered approach to reducing the accumulation of plastics in local waterways and international oceans.



The project provides step-by-step instructions for how to construct simple, cost-effective trawls made of recycled materials or 3-D printed frames that can be dragged by boat or bridge. Pollution collected in the trawls by citizen scientists can then be documented via a smartphone application and uploaded to the web platform, which connects environmental stewards to reporting mechanisms to contact local legislators and government agencies. 


In recent a trawling expedition with 5Gyres on the East River, the team collected three plastic straws (amongst other polymer debris) during a 20 minute trawl. When extrapolated by the size of the sample compared to the size of the waterway, the expedition suggests up to 40,000 plastic straws pollute the East River.


Barent and Aishwarya using the Re3DP Trawl in Newtown Creek during Parsons Field Trip


The daunting environmental impacts of individual consumption choices require community-engaged solutions that put the tools of conservation in the hands of concerned citizens. It’s with that goal in mind that Testing Our Waters intentionally designed trawls like the Re3DP Trawl that can be constructed for less than $15. Join them locally in fighting this global marine plastic pollution problem by trawling your waters.



Barent Roth (Faculty, The New School)

Taina Guarda (Alumni, The New School)

Aishwarya Janwadkar (Alumni, The New School)



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