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Plastic Origins : fighting against plastic pollution at the heart of Europe

Note to city dwellers, highlanders, and watersport users: you also have a role to play in protecting the Ocean from plastic pollution. How? Discover Surfrider Foundation Europe’s Plastic Origins program.

Plastic Origins: a mission to prevent marine litter directly at its source 

Did you know that marine pollution starts on the ground? Indeed, 80% of the plastic that pollutes our seas comes from inland areas. Carried through rivers and streams, litter ends up in the open Ocean, threatening marine ecosystems and water quality. Building on this observation, Surfrider Foundation Europe’s Plastic Origins program aims at mapping plastic waste located in rivers, thus providing data to end this pollution right at its source.

This innovative project combines both participative science and artificial intelligence. The mapping is realized by volunteers via the Plastic Origins application, which has been downloaded by over 600 users to this day. Subsequently, the data collected will be analyzed and shared in open source on the Plastic Origins website. Eventually, this program will deliver a detailed map showing the various pollution levels of all European waterways. Once completed, the mapping will highlight territories which are the most polluted. It will also provide local authorities with concrete solutions to reduce plastic pollution from inland areas.  

An expedition through the Rhine river to map plastic waste  

From August 21st to September 5th, 2021, Plastic Origins led its first expedition alongside the Rhine river. The objective? Following 155 kilometers of river between the source and the estuary. Using diverse methods (walking, kayaking, rafting), participants were able to collect plastic pollution data upstream from the Ocean. Designed at a European level, the expedition crossed Switzerland, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

Members of Surfrider Foundation Europe local chapters, researchers, civil society organizations and companies were among the fifty people who joined the expedition. During the trip, participants gained some insights on the plastic pollution issue, and were trained to use the Plastic Origins application. From now on, they are able to expand Plastic Origins to new territories across Europe.  

Results of the expedition and next steps 

The Plastic Origins expedition has enabled Surfrider Foundation Europe to obtain a better vision and understanding of plastic pollution within the targeted European areas around the Rhine river. Among the factors of the pollution contaminating rivers and lakes, one can especially mention the presence of industrial activities, local habits (e.g. regular cleaning, waste management), the level of exposure to flooding events, as well as the type of riverside vegetation and riverbank.

“During the trip, what marked me most was the fact that pollution even exist in isolated areas, at an altitude of 2000 meters. It was also surprising to see large quantities of industrial and domestic waste brought to riverbanks after floodings.” explains Océane, one of the expedition’s organizers. Far from stopping at this first assessment, Plastic Origins will continue to spread throughout Europe! This is therefore crucial to identify more European areas that are impacted by plastic pollution, in order to stem the tide of this phenomenon as quickly as possible, for the health of our rivers…and of our Ocean. 

How to get involved?  

Whether you are a walker, hiker, kayaker or simply curious, you can contribute to the preservation of the Ocean from inland. To participate, you only have to download the Plastic Origins application, attend a quick training session, and then report the presence of litter around you. So don’t wait any longer… grab your smartphone and join the Plastic Origins adventure.
Check out the Plastic Origins official website to learn more 
Click here to attend one of the Plastic Origins training sessions 
Download the Plastic Origins application for IOS or Android