APPROACH

If we do not act, our rivers will continue to dump the plastic waste they contain into our seas, and so continue to add to the plastic soup, which is the most difficult place for removal. We want to prevent this from happening. We want to make sure that our rivers stop pouring plastic waste into our seas and oceans.

But this is not an easy task at all. The Plastic Soup alike, riverine plastic pollution is a so-called wicked problem: it has social aspects, as well as economic and ecologic components. Additionally, it is linked to many other problems (e.g. health) and almost every single person is involved. Adding to all this, the knowledge about the problem is still incomplete and insufficient to enable the definition of a clear and feasible approach with a predictable outcome.

This means that riverine plastic pollution is hard to solve. However, not solving it is not an option.

Zero Plastic Rivers wants to contribute actively to build the necessary knowledge, know-how and technology to effectively solve this problem.

For this purpose, we adopt a scientific and structured approach which is based on an appropriate mix of different scientific domains such as quantitative optimization, environmental management, marine engineering, measurement technology, information technology, sociology and psychology for sustainability.

Essentially, this approach consists of five distinct steps.

Define – Measure – Analyze – Improve – Control

The first step aims to define the problem to solve as specific as possible. Related to plastic pollution, it is necessary to make a distinction between macro-, micro- and nano-plastics. Once this choice has been make, it is necessary to create a measurement system that enables to measure the concerned plastic pollution. The next step is to investigate and identify all the possible causes. Then, the problem will be addressed by eliminating as much of the causes as possible, focusing on the most important ones.

BY WORKING TOGETHER WE CAN STOP THE PLASTIC SOUP

People - Science - Technology

For this purpose, we will put into practice a number of well-known principles. To start, what can be measured can be managed. Second, prevention is the best cure and third, remove plastic litter as fast as possible from the environment.

Our first focus is the problem of macro-plastics. Later and if possible, we intend also to address the problem of micro-plastics in rivers and waterways.

What can be measured, can be managed

Obviously, we want to know the impact of different measures and actions. That is why we will not only have to measure the current plastic pollution but also the plastic pollution after the implementation of specific improvement actions, in order to gauge and evaluate the results. Based on this, we can adapt our approach if necessary.

PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE

Make sure to prevent any plastic litter in our environment.

An essential aspect is preventing plastic from entering our rivers. For this, we need your help. And anyone of us can help in a very simple way: dispose of any plastic you use via the official systems of garbage processing and make sure that none of the plastic you use ends up in the environment. Because any plastic that enters the environment will most probably end up in the plastic soup, severely damaging our marine ecosystems.

Remove plastic waste as fast as possible from the environment

If any plastic waste does enter our rivers or waterways, we want to collect and remove it before it reaches the sea via a river’s estuary. We want to prevent any plastic waste to enter the plastic soup, because that is the worst imaginable place for removal. On the contrary, we must and will do whatever we can to remove plastic garbage from our environment as fast as possible. We do not wait until tomorrow, or next week, or next month or until never…  . We have to clean any plastic mess in the environment as soon as possible. In this context, we consider technical solutions, for which we will cooperate with the government, industry and other non-governmental organizations for design and implemention.

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OUR RIVERS ARE DROWNING IN PLASTIC WASTE

And because of that, so are our seas and oceans

Plastic is polluting our seas and oceans. Currently, approximately 150 million tons of plastic waste is present in our oceans and form the infamous plastic soup. And it is getting worse: estimates indicate that 8 million tons is added each year. That equals a truckload of plastic per minute.

We want to stop our rivers from transporting plastic waste to the seas. We want to accomplish this by using a structured approach which is grounded in science and which is inspired on the principles of quantitative optimization as defined by Six Sigma and environmental sciences.

Our rivers are heavily polluted with plastic and as such they are the most important source of the plastic soup in the oceans, even up to 80%. We can solve this problem by stopping our rivers from transporting plastic waste to sea. For that purpose, we aim for Zero Plastic Rivers.

PLASTIC SOUP

The Plastic Soup: a global problem

The plastic pollution of our oceans is known as the plastic soup, a colossal, global and almost immeasurable problem. Up to now, no exact data are available but estimates indicate that at least approximately 100 to 150 million tons of plastic waste is floating in our seas and oceans. In an area of at least 700.000 km² but probably even bigger than 15.000.000 km², the overall water column is polluted, from the bottom to the surface.

Plastic debris has been found even at a depth of 5 kilometer.

These numbers are staggering, as is the estimate that approximately 5 trillion pieces of plastic, from really small to very big, are bobbing about in our oceans. That is approximately 5.000.000.000.000 pieces. And this estimate might even be very cautious. Although it is disturbing that we only have estimates about the size of the Plastic Soup, the fact that the plastic pollution exists  is the worst part of the story. And although pollution by means of micro-plastic is nearly invisible, the pollution under the form of macro-plastics is very visible. There is currently only one way not to see it, and that is by looking away.

THE PLASTIC POLLUTION OF THE OCEANS IS KNOWN AS THE PLASTIC SOUP

Up to 5.000.000.000.000 pieces of plastic of all sizes are floating in our seas and oceans.

To make things worse, this problem gets bigger every day. Estimates suggest that per year approximately 8 million tons of plastic waste is added to the plastic soup. This is the equivalent of a truckload of plastic garbage per minute. Every hour of the day, every day of the year. If this continues, our oceans might contain up to 250 million tons of plastic waste by 2025. And this pollution is not stopped by any borders, making it truly a global problem. In fact, the greatest part of all plastic that enters the water one way or another, ends up in the plastic soup, the giant ocean area that consists of five huge rotating gyres that collect and concentrate all plastic waste.

All plastic waste eventually ends up in the plastic soup.

These gyres are known as the North Pacific Gyre, the South Pacific Gyre, the Indian Ocean Gyre, the North Atlantic Gyre and the South Atlantic Gyre. In each of these, the concentration of plastic is far higher than in other parts of the oceans. Measurements indicate that the North Atlantic Gyre contains approx. 20.000 pieces of plastic per square kilometer. In the North Pacific Gyre, the plastic pollution even results in as much as approx.. 334.000 pieces and particles of plastic per square kilometer, the greater part of which consists of smaller pieces, even smaller than 5 mm.

THE SURFACE OF THE PLASTIC SOUP IS IMMENSE

We are talking about a surface bigger than France or even twice as Germany.

plastic-sixpack

The surface of the plastic soup is immense by all means. To put it in perspective, it is bigger than the state of Texas, which is bigger than France and even double as big as Germany. And there is more. Next to the gyres, quite a lot of hotspots exist, in which the concentrations of plastic are also very high, often even higher than in the gyres. The Mediterranean Sea is a good example of such a hotspot. Plastic waste is dumped into the Mediterranean from all sides, but the principal connection to the ocean, the Street of Gibraltar, is too narrow to allow the plastic waste to flow out it.

The concentration of plastic in the Mediterranean Sea is as high as 116.000 pieces of plastic per square kilometer.

Also the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea are severely polluted by plastic. Other examples of hotspots for marine plastic pollution are bays (e.g. close to big cities), riverine estuaries, sea-patches close to industrial centers and areas where different sea currents come together.