Content pages

Evidence on plastic pollution has already been gathered in both the freshwater systems and the marine environment (including the Danube and the Black Sea) over the last decades. Scientific investigations identified strong linkages between marine pollution, terrestrial areas and land-based activities. Poor waste management, everyday littering, plastic industry facilities, consuming of products of textile and cosmetic industries in households and tire abrasion pollute rivers that further discharge plastic litter into the receiving seas. While priority should be given to reducing plastic pollution at source, river clean-up actions are also highly important to eliminate plastic litter accumulation hot-spots.

Plastic litter accumulation in a river

Plastic pollution is the accumulation and transport of (macro)plastic litter along and in surface waters and the contamination of waters with plastic microparticles.

Plastic pollution has massive impacts on the freshwater ecosystems. Plastic particles may cause a lot of interference with inhabitants of the freshwater environment. Aquatic plastics (micro- and macro plastic particles alike) cause entanglement, optical and acoustic pollution, ingestion and even suffocation and starvation for all kinds of species. Accumulated riverine litter can alter shoreline conditions and habitats and can lead to the colonization of floodplains by invasive species. Moreover, harmful chemicals could be adsorbed to the surface of plastic particles, leading to the incorporation of these contaminants into animal tissues. This contamination can reach human populations via the aquatic food chain, thus raising concerns about not just animal but also human health.

In addition, plastics are subject to degradation. Photodegradation by UV light and oxidation affects mostly plastic litter accumulations that become susceptible to micronization by a very light pressure. Submerged aquatic plastics are either subjected to degradation via abrasion or bacterial decay. Plastic pollution also affects water-dependent economic sectors such as recreation, fishing and tourism. Since 80% of the marine plastic litter can be attributed to land-based activities and are transported from land to sea by rivers, plastic pollution is a basin-wide issue.

From source to sea - tackling plastic pollution in rivers

Supported by the ICPDR, the Tid(y)Up project - funded by the Danube Transnational Programme - has been recently implemented focusing on tackling plastic pollution. The project aimed at reducing plastic pollution in the Tisza River and investigating plastic pollution and its effects by launching integrated actions, providing practical tools and initiating long term transboundary and intersectoral cooperation to monitor and eliminate plastic pollution. The main actions of the project groupped into three key thematic pillars (research & assessment, clean-up & dissemination and policy & lobby) are the following:

  • A Joint Protocol for Plastic Waste Monitoring was developed. It decsribes tested sampling methods for micro- and macroplastic.
  • An online macroplastic pollution map has been set up. There is an exportable database behind the pollution map that is convertible and usable by experts, professionals such as researchers of the relevant fields of science.
  • The Clean-up Handguide was elaborated that includes a step-by-step illustration about how to organize clean-up interventions. Using the instructions of the Handguide, 5 international, mostly cross-border clean-ups were implemented.
  • The Floating Exhibition (FLEX) is a key dissemination material and communication tool of the project. It is a floating, thus mobile awareness raising exhibition, creating a sustainable, flexible, unique and functional environment to host awareness raising and educational activities.
  • A policy paper on managing plastic pollution in DRB countries was developed. The policy paper contains regulatory-, financial- and capacity building tools for plastic waste reduction in the DRB countries and serves as a sound basis for developing an ICPDR guidance paper on the plastic pollution issue.

A Waste Reduction Toolkit was elaborated. The Toolkit targets three different groups:

  1. riverside holiday resorts and restaurants
  2. local governments
  3. the general public.