Below you will find the report that I wrote about my visit to the Moluccas in Jan/Feb 2017. Please feel free to spread the report in your network. Enjoy reading!
In May 2016 Waste Free Waters celebrated her 5th birthday. In these 5 years a lot of progress has been made. When we started, nothing was known about riverine litter and Waste Free Waters just took a pragmatic approach by just beginning. With the help of PlasticsEurope, Chemelot and my former employer Zuyd University we started to unveil the presence of litter in a river and we learned a lot about the way litter is transported . This story can be read in the earlier blogs.
Now, 5 years later, Waste Free Waters can look back on some remarkable achievements:
- A method has been developed to sample rivers on the presence of litter. We now understand how to measure the amount of macrolitter floating on the surface and in the watercolumn. How particles with different nature, sizes and shapes behave in different riverine conditions. We know the relation with environmental conditions like season, precipitation and riverine morphology. The developed method is simple and easy to reproduce.
- Waste Free Waters is a recognized expert on riverine litter in national and international fora. A number of visits have been made to discussions within the European Technical Group Marine Litter on the issue of land based sources of Marine Litter. We are now discussing a “Riverine Litter Monitoring Guidance”, a document that must lay a foundation for a Europe-wide monitoring network of rivers entering the European Seas. The expertise of Waste Free Waters, also gained in the European assignment to sample in 4 major European rivers, is of great value here.
- The Schone Maas project (Clean Meuse project), which was inspired by Waste Free Waters in 2012 has become very successful. Now all the Limburg municipalities cooperate in yearly river bank cleanups and the project has started to spread to the rest of the Netherlands and Belgium.
- A visit to Indonesia and Japan as a consultant for “The OceanCleanup” has triggered some interesting ideas to develop the “mini-Plastic-to Fuel” technology for small communities in developing countries. Anywhere in the world the problem of riverine litter is equal in its technical nature, but completely different in scale and societal circumstances. Waste Free waters has developed a unique position to identify the common characteristics of the riverine litter problem worldwide and to target potentially feasible solutions.
For the next 5 years the following strategic directions are relevant:
- Further development of riverine sampling techniques and methodologies. Waste Free Waters now knows how to sample the presence of litter in rivers. For the near future a new sampling vessel is required. This is necessary because it is a vital contribution to the rapidly developing technique of monitoring riverine litter with camera’s from bridges. Calibrating the specific camera results of the larger floating fraction to the whole spectrum of transported litter is what Waste Free Waters can add here.
- Development of mini Plastic-to-Fuel equipment for developing countries. Developing countries contribute heavily to marine litter because a comprehensive waste management infrastructure is lacking. Mega cities require mega facilities, but the pressure on these cities, mostly downstream of rivers, can be released by solutions aimed at small communities far upstream or in more remote locations. Normal technical solutions here are mostly difficult to apply because of lacking technical infrastructure or an economical deficit. Transportation costs mostly block the economic feasibility, so a strictly local solution should be found where economic fluctuations have no impact. These kind of installations can be built, but some developments are needed to make them technically and economically robust in these conditions.
Why do we need support?
Waste Free Waters is the most minimalistic foundation you can imagine. As a retired professional the costs for the activities of the Foundation are just travel expenses and the costs for some equipment like a computer and printer, maintenance for the camper and trailer and for networking and communication. No salary costs and only very limited overhead costs. But both projects, the new sampler and the mini Plastic-to-Waste installation, need funding and sponsoring.
To secure the activities of Waste Free Waters for the coming years, an amount of € 10.000 is needed to cover the overhead costs.
The development and construction of the new sampler will cost € 75.000 and the development, construction, testing and (Indonesian) introduction of the mini Plastic-to-Fuel installation will take around € 50.000.
How can you contribute?
Waste Free Waters is a recognized non-profit foundation with ANBI-status. You can contribute with any donation and you can use the following account number:
Waste Free Waters Foundation
account nr: NL64 ABNA 0554 1070 58
BIC code: ABNANL2A
and use the reference: “Donation”
or use this link:
If you want personal contact:
Waste Free Waters is totally open to discuss our insights and experiences and to share it with anyone who deals with the problem of riverine litter. Transparency and open communication can only bring us all further in understanding the problem of riverine litter and will lead to solutions for this enormous worldwide problem.
For contact you have the following options:
phone: +31 (0) 653693382
Facebookpage Waste Free Waters Foundation:
Personal facebookpage Gijsbert Tweehuysen:
It’s now februari 2015. It has been some time since my last contribution on this blog and a lot has happened.
First of all, I am (something like) retired. That means that I have no formal employer anymore. It took some time to adjust to that new status, but now I am settled in this situation and the possibilities and time to follow my “plastic waste” passion have only grown.
Secondly, the Foundation Waste Free Waters is formally established in August 2013 as an independent organization aimed at reducing river litter flowing into the sea. Our slogan is: Waste Free Waters: a Matter of Facts!
Thirdly, Waste Free Waters contributed to a very interesting and challenging European project to identify the amount of litter that is present in a number of European rivers and which is transported to the 4 European Seas: the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. This project took place during almost the entire year 2014 and in a later post I will tell more about the findings of this project. We learned a lot!
Finally, we now know how to measure river litter. The year 2015 will be a year to develop new methods to sample the riverine flow of litter in all sorts of conditions and to engage in projects on a European scale to mitigate this problem. The lessons learned from the “Schone Maas” project will be applied in new initiatives in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe.
I keep you posted!
PS: follow the Facebookpage of Waste Free Waters:
Lessons learned in 2012:
During 2012 we have done our first trawls with the set-up we have developed for measuring the amount of litter that is transported by the Meuse. At the time of the sampling, the conditions of the river were very calm and we did not expect to find very high numbers of items. But it turned out that the results were already very significant. After drying, counting and categorizing the caught items, the conclusion was that the amount of litter in the river was big enough to take the problem of river litter very serious.
We did find a substantial amount of macroplastics and we believe the method we developed is capable of delivering valuable data for assessing the contribution of rivers to the problem of plastic litter in the seas.
Until now, beach sampling was the only method available to assess the volume of litter in a river. Our data shows that a substantial part of litter, mainly the flexible fraction, remains in suspension and will not be found on an river bank, unless it is caught in the vegetation. The real amount of flexibles will probably be much higher than presented here in the slides. It takes some more hydrological analyses to determine the dispersion of these parts in the whole water column, here we have only used the number of flexibles that were present in the upper 70 cm.
It also turned out that a major part of the items are smaller than 25 mm. That does not include them in the category of microplastics (< 5 mm), but they could be small enough to be missed in sampling on a beach.
Plastic soup is “only” a part of the litter problem. Although this image is very appealing to the imagination, especially when also images are created from plastic islands somewhere in a far-away ocean, it makes you worry, but it hardly gives you clues to do something about it.
Actions like “BAN THE BAG”, or “RISE ABOVE PLASTICS” give some kind of psychological relief for all those people who want to do something, but you can be sceptical about the overall effect of these actions. Littering starts when people already have a product and leave it in the environment. So, these actions address “plastics” and not “litter”.
Sure, it brings awareness to the problem with the public and it urges politicians to put the issue on their agendas. That is true and so these actions are a good thing in itself. But for a solution we must do better!
The road from source to sink can be long and windy (see this video: The Majestic Plastic Bag). But it also shows clearly that there are numerous moments where it is possible to intercept litter reaching its final destination in the ocean.
I like to approach the problem from a technological more scientific point of view. Understanding the issues, bring logic and data in the discussion and act from an analysis of the situation. For that purpose I have drawn up a diagram of the flow of litter from source to sink.
River Litter Transport Model
The process starts (blue box on the middle-left) when someone owns a product, wants to get rid of it or loses it. When not discarded properly for reuse, recycling or whatever, litter starts a (sometimes) long way to a final destination.
(please click on the picture if you want a better resolution)
The blue arrows represent recovery and recycling processes, the red lines are emissions and the yellow arrows describe the flow of litter from source to sink when products or parts are released in the environment.
The red boxes represent the final destinations of litter on land, in the sediment of a river, on the bottom of the sea or on a remote beach. The purple boxes indicate the possibilities for ingestion by animals or organisms and the green boxes represent the decomposition (eg. composting of paper or rusting of metal ) as a natural process.
What is the value of this model?
First of all you can see that there are a number of possibilities (red arrows) where waste can enter the environment. It can be thrown away on land, into a river, into the sea or left on a beach. Awareness and action campaigns can be directed at these emissions, technical solutions can be developed to prevent emissions like sewer overflows, organisational measures can be implemented to empty waste bins in time, etc.
The preferred route for disposal is the dark blue line upwards into some kind of a waste management system, although from there it should not leak back into the environment as an emission (birds picking from waste dumps or overflowing sewer systems). You can favour recycling, but from the perspective of preventing litter entering the oceans any recovery option is a good one (even incineration, when done properly).
You can also see the possibilities to recover litter from the environment (recover from land, riverbanks, beaches or recover litter from the bottom of the seas or from the sea-surface). It is a matter of economics, local circumstances and efficiency to choose for the best opportunity to intercept litter in one of these places. But anything recovered will not end up in one of the described sinks.
There are two circular movements in the picture. First the intermittent deposition of litter from the river onto the riverbank and the other from the seas onto the beaches. This immediately makes it clear how important constant beach-cleans and cleaning of river banks are in preventing litter to end up in one of the sinks. As long as litter is emitted in the environment, clean-ups are a vital ingredient of preventing litter from reaching the sinks.
Once litter has been transported by the river from land into the sea, the possibilities to capture it are drastically reduced. Only the very buoyant particles and products will remain somewhere near the sea surface and might get deposited on a beach by the wind or currents, the rest will disappear below the surface in the water column to end up for ever on the bottom of the sea or enter the food chain in some way. It is practically impossible to recover from there, although attempts are made (Fishing for Litter).
My conclusion from this diagram is that the river is the last practical place to intercept litter before it disappears in the vastness of the seas. It should be more easy to catch litter from a river than from an ocean, we should only be innovative to find ways to do that!
But, even if you have not risen above plastics, there is no excuse not to dispose your waste in the proper way!
While writing this blog I am watching the Giro d’Italia. While everything goes forward, every couple of seconds things go sideways: bidons. Below you see a picture of Tom Boonen getting rid of his drinking bottle (ok, not in the Giro….)
It makes sense that these guys do this with their bottles while racing, but recreational bikers do the same. What happens with these bottles? Here you see one that I found while letting my dog out.
A couple of cars must have been driving over it. Where is the cap? Ah, there is one in Meers,
Where is the rest of this bottle? My guess is that it is crushed in tiny fragments and washed away with the rain.
Here we may find a fragment of it…
But I think it is more realistic to look for its fragments right here!
You can picture the way these pieces have travelled:
Thrown away on a curbside or road, get crushed by cars, separating bottle from cap. Fragmented to a size that makes it easy for transportation by rain. Transported further by sewer systems, passing through purification plants, get transported by smaller creeks towards the Meuse. Get deposited for a while on the bank, but transported further after a high water period until flowing into the sea. Adding some more grammes to the plastic soup.
I follow a plastic bag already for a couple of months. This is how he looked while I first met him on January 1st 2012, being entangled in barbed wire.
A couple of months later this is how he looked:
Slowly disintegrating and showing the characteristic wrinkling of a weathered plastic film:
And where are the blown off pieces? Maybe here…
There is a general idea that plastics in the oceans get ever smaller through the impact of UV-light and wave-action. But I think the fragmentation is already far on it’s way when litter is still in a river.
So whenever we want to stop plastics flowing into the seas, we better be aware that we have to stop these little particles being transported. But that we can solve on land and we do not have to fish them out of the sea!
Maybe that is some good news
The effect of the surface to volume ratio demonstrated in the oceans. Same phenomenon as we have found in the river.