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Plastic Origins: Artificial intelligence to stop pollution at its source

Surfrider Europe was created by people who are passionate about surfing and committed to protecting it. Three decades later, this desire to protect and enjoy remains at the core of the organization. Our actions are motivated by a drive to preserve our natural playground. Today, however, our expert network stretches beyond the beach. We now know that the majority of the plastic pollution in the Ocean comes from rivers that pass through major cities. So to solve this problem, we have to think upstream and take action at the source. Hence, the launch of Plastic Origins.    

Prevent the problem before it reaches the Ocean  

8 million tons of plastic waste are discharged every year into the ocean, stifling marine biodiversity. This is a scary assessment when we know that 80% of this waste comes from inland origins, from us, and our behaviors. Rivers passing by urban, residential, and agricultural areas, transport tons of waste that travel long distances to end up in the ocean. However, to this day, no requirement for river pollution monitoring is requested by any European countries.  

Drawing on this, with the mission to stop this destructive cycle, skilled volunteers from Surfrider Europe’s far-reaching network developed Plastic Origins, a participative scientific program built to identify Europe’s most polluted waterways to better understand waste pollution and how to resolve it.    

Plastic Origins’ objective is to generate hard data on river pollution to build a map indexing pollution levels of all waterways across Europe. With this tool, the organization can work with regional authorities to implement local solutions and monitor their effectiveness.   

Detecting rivers waste thanks to an innovative app  

Plastic Origins unites science and sport with an app that allows you to collect pollution data while you enjoy a quest on the river!   

How does it work? The Plastic Origins app collects data in real-time by recording waste along the riverside. Once the app is downloaded, 2 options can be selected: the first consists of filming the riverbanks. The artificial intelligence algorithm will then analyze the video and will automatically detect visible waste. It will then count, geo-localize, and classify waste according to its typology (bottles, fragments, etc.). The second option consists of manually reporting and classifying waste spotted while walking or kayaking. This data is made available to the public on the Plastic Origins’ website.

A project constantly evolving 

This project could not have been possible without the commitment of Surfrider Europe’s volunteers and teams from Microsoft, AI’s School, Heuritech, and Metsys. Indeed, for over a year, teams of citizens and scientists worked together to collect data on the field during a pilot phase which indexed several waterways while fine-tuning the artificial intelligence technology, database, website, labeling platform, etc. It is because of their commitment and passion that we can launch this program with confidence.   

To reach its objective, Plastic Origins needs people power! Anyone with a smartphone can get involved by subscribing to a short training session to learn how to use the technology. 

Connecting with nature is how we will manage to protect it. The Ocean is our playground and today, thanks to advances in technology, we have a new opportunity to save it. Help us collect data to stop river pollution at its source before it reaches the Ocean!