Cutting River Plastic Waste
Huge amounts of plastic waste are ending up in the ocean, threatening the health of marine ecosystems and coastal communities. This global crisis was identified in almost 40 submissions to the Benioff Ocean Initiative’s crowdsourcing campaign, including “Skimming the problem of ocean pollution” and “Identifying ocean plastic sources.”
It is estimated that the vast majority of marine plastic waste comes from land, and that almost all of this land-sourced marine waste is transported to the ocean from rivers. In fact, up to 275 metric tons of plastic are estimated to enter the ocean from rivers every hour on average, affecting the health of marine mammals, sea turtles, fish, seabirds, manta rays, and many other ocean species. The sheer volume of plastic waste entering the ocean this way creates an opportunity for implementing high-impact, cost-effective intervention strategies in polluted rivers around the world.
The Benioff Ocean Initiative and The Coca-Cola Foundation are partnering to provide $11 million to empower a global network of dedicated, passionate, and collaborative problem-solvers combating the flow of plastic waste from rivers to the ocean. This global network will consist of several interdisciplinary teams working around the world to pilot technologies for physical capture of plastic waste in highly-polluted rivers, and to catalyze policy-based, infrastructural, and societal change to reduce plastic waste inputs to those rivers. A global solution for the problem of plastic waste entering the ocean requires deployment of diverse interventions in rivers, so each intervention will be tailored to the equally diverse riverine and cultural environments where plastic waste is found.
Recipients of funding were selected through a competitive request for proposals process that took place May-July 2019. The Benioff Ocean Initiative received proposals for 30 projects across 5 continents and 16 countries. Due to the high volume of exciting and innovative proposals, we expanded the program from 1 to 9 projects, creating a global network of organizations working collaboratively to eliminate river plastic waste.
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A GLOBAL NETWORK
The global network will comprise 9 teams working to combat plastic waste in rivers. Each team is made up of several interdisciplinary partners under the leadership of one organization committed to protecting the environment from plastic waste. We’ll be sharing more about each of the teams and their projects as they are finalized. Check back here for more information soon!
Marea Verde is leading the program’s first project, located in the Matias Hernandez River in Panama City, Panama. In recent years, as the waters and coastline of Panama Bay have been besieged by plastic pollution, Marea Verde has worked to remove trash from the Matias Hernandez River, the Costa del Este mangroves, and beaches surrounding Panama City. Starting in 2020, Marea Verde will adapt the successful and well-known Trash Wheel technology to the Matias Hernandez River and empower local communities to reduce waste in the watershed.
Greeneration Foundation utilizes adaptive and creative media to change human behavior in Indonesia. The team plans to empower the local community while installing a plastic capture system in the Citarum River, on the eastern border of Jakarta. The system, which is designed and manufactured by Riverrecycle Ltd, uses active concentration modules with an automatic collection wheel to lift waste out of the river. The system is operated by Waste4Change and is able to capture on average 70-200 tons of waste per day, which will be separated and classified into waste streams for recycling, composting, and conversion into fuel.
SMART VILLAGES + CHEMOLEX
Smart Villages and Chemolex are leading the program’s project in Kenya to install 10 plastic capture devices in locations along the Nairobi River and its major tributaries, the Athi and the Sabaki, and prevent plastics from entering the Indian Ocean. The team will work on outreach efforts to increase local awareness by training 100 women groups and 50 community-based organizations (CBOs) on sustainable waste management, and helping them to create sustainable businesses that convert both organic and other wastes into energy and organic fertilizer.
WILDCOAST is an international team that conserves coastal and marine ecosystems and addresses climate change through natural solutions. The team will be focusing their plastic capture efforts in Los Laureles Canyon, a major tributary of the Tijuana River Watershed in Tijuana, Mexico. WILDCOAST will work with local partners to segregate and shred the captured plastics into small leaflets to be repurposed into recycled by-products and building bricks for community-based projects.
Ichthion’s expertise is in developing technological solutions to face the myriad problems facing ecosystems around the world. This team has developed the Azure system to remove great volumes of plastic from rivers and oceans. In Ecuador, Ichthion will use the Azure system to remove plastic debris from the Portoviejo River. It is estimated that this system can collect up to 80 tonnes of plastic per day, and prevent it from entering the Pacific Ocean. Ichthion will also work to empower the local communities that are still recovering from a devastating earthquake in 2016.
Ocean Conservancy is a nonprofit organization working to protect the ocean from today’s greatest global challenges, including plastic pollution. They are partnering with a local organization to install five plastic capture devices in the Song Hong (Red River) in Nam Dinh city Vietnam while also working upstream to prevent plastic pollution. The prototype of the device is based on a decade of experience working on marine debris and waste management. Each device consists of two floating booms with mesh to guide the waste into a trash trap. Once captured and removed from waterways, teams will sort and analyze the plastic to help us understand the source and identify ways of stopping it before it gets into the environment.
TERRACYCLE GLOBAL FOUNDATION
TerraCycle Global Foundation works with local communities to tackle plastic pollution from all angles. They will be capturing plastics in the Lat Phrao Canal to reduce the amount of debris entering into the Chao Phraya River near Bangkok, Thailand. TerraCycle Global Foundation will be working with two communities living at the canal to empower locals to prevent debris from entering the river in the first place.
Renew Oceans is a non-profit organization working to reduce ocean plastic pollution where it begins: in populous, river adjacent communities around the world. The Renew Oceans ReFence plastic capture system will divert and collect plastic waste on the Assi River from the Ganges River near Varanasi, India. The system will be anchored to the riverbanks on both sides and directs plastic waste close to shore where it can be easily removed. For Renew Oceans, clean rivers begin with local engagement, so they will partner with local waste pickers for the collection of captured plastic.
THE OCEAN CLEANUP
The Ocean Cleanup is a Dutch non-profit organization that develops advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic. Its purpose is to drive the largest ocean cleanup in history by cleaning up the plastic already accumulated in the ocean, while simultaneously stemming the flow of plastic into the oceans via rivers. The Ocean Cleanup’s ambition is to tackle the 1000 most polluting rivers around the world within five years. In Jamaica, The Ocean Cleanup Interceptor will be deployed at the heart of the Kingston Harbour at Hunts Bay. Plastics collected will be separated in the collection centers in Kingston and recycled when possible, and with the participation of the community, we expect to see changes in behavior and a measurable reduction in plastics reaching the Caribbean Sea.
In November 2018, the Benioff Ocean Initiative convened a summit to develop a roadmap for cutting off the flow of plastic waste from rivers to the ocean. The conclusions of that summit were documented in a white paper that summarizes the state of science on river plastic waste emissions, highlights existing plastic capture strategies, and outlines a call to action for global efforts to eliminate river plastic waste.