The ‘Clean Rivers’ initiative is a collaboration between IVN, Plastic Soup Foundation and Stichting De Noordzee to stop the flow of plastic through rivers at the source. The next five years these three organizations will not only clean up the riverbanks of the Meuse and Waal, but will also, with the help of volunteers, start a large-scale waste research. The goal of Clean Rivers is to gain more insight into the amounts, composition and source of the waste along rivers. The Netherlands has never seen such a large research into river waste with the help of ‘citizen science’: data collection for research purposes by volunteers.

The topic of plastic soup is high on the social agenda. There are many initiatives around the globe to clean up waste and reduce the huge amount of plastic in the oceans. In addition to cleanup initiatives we also need knowledge into the origins of waste in order to handle the problem at the source. Moreover, the plastic waste supply from rivers is an overlooked problem. The Institute for environmental education and sustainability (IVN), Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF) and Stichting De Noordzee (North Sea Foundation) have joined forces to change this.

Citizen Science

Clean Rivers separates itself from other initiatives because it will, apart from cleaning up riverbanks, focus on a multi-year research into waste with the help of citizen science. Volunteers will count and categorize the waste along rivers according to a standardized protocol. In 2016, a pilot along the Meuse in Limburg, the Netherlands was used to gain experience with this type of research. Stichting De Noordzee has nearly 15 years of experience monitoring the waste on Dutch beaches and will therefore play an important role in the setup of the research program.

The research program will include collaborations with cleanup initiatives ‘Clean Meuse’ in Brabant and Limburg (NL), and with ‘Clean Waal’ in Gelderland (NL). Initiator IVN will be the link between all involved parties. These initiatives have been cleaning up litter on the river forelands with 3.000 volunteers since 2013. These volunteers will play an important role in Clean Rivers, because they are the eyes and ears of the river region and can therefore alert the council or area manager in case of irregularities.

Tackle at the source

Once we know more about the origin of the waste, the polluting parties can be better tracked, involved and addressed to find solutions for the spillage of plastic waste in the environment. With initiatives focused on the public, business world and policy makers, the three organizations want to ensure that no waste ends up in the rivers and eventually the ocean. The plastic soup will be stopped at the source.

Unique collaboration

Apart from the strong coalition between the three partners IVN, Stichting De Noordzee and Plastic Soup Foundation, the Clean Rivers initiative will see a close collaboration with Leiden University to develop ‘citizen science’. Additionally, they will seek collaborations with provinces (Brabant, Gelderland and Limburg), Rijkswaterstaat, municipalities along the Meuse and Waal, water authorities, area managers, water companies, research institutes and the business world. The ambition of the project is to eventually include the entire European river system from the source to the Dutch Delta.

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