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Robot boats gobble plastic waste from Vietnam to Malaysia

Coldplay, Coca-Cola, Kia funding trash-hunting vessels in Asian rivers

A semi-autonomous "Interceptor" boat hoovers up garbage in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, a top source of the world's ocean plastic. (Photo courtesy of U.S. embassy in Hanoi)

HO CHI MINH CITY -- The floating markets of Vietnam's Mekong Delta have a new, high-tech neighbor: a robotic boat that gobbles up plastic bottles, wrappers and other trash that could spill into the Pacific Ocean, taking aim at one of the world's most pressing environmental problems.

The electric vessel joins a flotilla of similar craft making waves from Malaysia to Indonesia that have been built by the Ocean Cleanup nonprofit with cash from sources including British rock band Coldplay, drinks giant Coca-Cola and South Korean automaker Kia. The latter says it will use plastic recovered from the sea in its manufacturing, as well as donating electric vehicles to the organization.

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