Riverine plastic pollution is a complex problem with many facets that need careful consideration. To start, plastic pollution in rivers comes in a huge variety of types, weights and dimensions, ranging from nano-plastics which are invisible to the human eye to huge pieces of ultra-strong macro-plastic that can even block the propeller of a ship. Secondly, rivers are complex and dynamic systems, and each individual river has its own specific set of physical characteristics. Also, rivers usually are managed by different governmental organizations, certainly so if they cross borders.
Because of this, reducing riverine plastic pollution is a very complex task subject to an important set of constraints.
For that reason, Zero Plastic Rivers has designed a science-based and modular program that includes all necessary aspects of an effective approach against riverine plastic pollution. The research group Ecobe of the University of Antwerp governs the scientific underpinning and environmental validity of the overall program.
Within this program, Zero Plastic Rivers will not elaborate everything by its own, which would by the way be impossible. On the contrary, Zero Plastic Rivers looks for partners that are capable and willing to elaborate autonomously specific parts of the overall program.
In this context, zero Plastic Rivers aims to map and connect as much existing initiatives as possible to improve results by cooperation.
If necessary, Zero Plastic Rivers will try to initiate new initiatives, e.g. the R&D-activities related to the design and creation of appropriate measurement systems.
Cooperation for measurement systems
Although estimates about marine and riverine plastic pollution exist, no accurate measurements by means of a validated measurement system have been done.
For that reason, Zero Plastic Rivers helps to define, initiate and elaborate R&D-projects to design, build and implement appropriate measurement systems.
First and foremost, it is important to design a measurement method which is as accurate as possible, with a known measurement error. For that purpose and in cooperation with Zero Plastic Rivers, research group Ecobe of the University of Antwerp has defined and initiated a doctoral research project to assess, characterize and quantify the flux of macro-plastic waste to the North Sea via the river Scheldt. As such, this project is supported by both government and industry and the results are intended to calibrate an automated sensor-based measurement system.
Second, it is important to not only build an accurate and reliable measurement system, it should also be capable to generate sufficient measurement data in a short timeframe. This implies then need for an automated system, based on sensor- and information technology. In this context, Zero Plastic Rivers has requested an initial research project to identify possible feasible sensor technology. This project has been done at the Faculty of Engineering Sciences at the University of Leuven.
Subsequently, Zero Plastic Rivers investigates which technology partners have the necessary know-how and technology and which are interested to work on the development of a sensor-based measurement system. Such potential partners are companies and organizations which are involved in sensor- and information technology, marine engineering, riverine and marine management and environmental management and engineering.
Cooperation for systems to catch and remove plastic pollution
Over the past years, different types of systems to catch and remove plastic pollution from rivers have been designed and tested.
The current results however show the necessity to design and build systems that are more effective.
Since research and development for such systems is very capital- and labor-intensive, Zero Plastic Rivers helps in this context by connecting relevant and capable partners.
As an example, Zero Plastic Rivers has helped to initiate and organize talks and discussions that have eventually led to the decision of “De Vlaamse Waterweg” to issue a Request for Proposal related to the design of systems to catch and remove macro-plastics from the river Scheldt.
Cooperation for prevention
Of all possible actions against riverine plastic pollution, prevention is most probably the most important.
To put prevention into practice, not only an organized and structured approach is necessary but also the help and commitment of a lot of people. And additionally, the necessary resources and equipment also need to be available.
For the purpose of an organized and structured approach, Zero Plastic Rivers cooperates with “De Mooimakers”. Their Action Map gives everybody the opportunity to claim and take responsibility to keep a part of Belgium (a street, a neighborhood, …) clean and free of litter. This enables volunteers to cooperate in a structured way in the battle against litter.
Everybody who voluntarily removes plastic litter in the vicinity or on the banks of a river or waterway helps to keep our rivers free from plastic and to reduce the growth of the plastic soup.
Next to this, it is also useful to inform other people such as your friends, family, neighbors and colleagues about the problem of riverine plastic pollution and to incentivize them to take action.
Currently, Zero Plastic Rivers is investigating the possibilities to build a network to help and support such personal and voluntary initiatives.