EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Abundance of plastic debris across European and Asian rivers

Caroline van Calcar1,2 and Tim van Emmerik1,3
Caroline van Calcar and Tim van Emmerik
  • 1The Ocean Cleanup, Batavierenstraat 15, 3014 JH, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
  • 2Geoscience and Remote Sensing, Delft University of Technology, Stevinweg 1, 2628 CN, Delft, The Netherlands
  • 3Hydrology and Quantitative Water Management Group, Wageningen University, Droevendaalsesteeg 3, 6708 PB, Wageningen, The Netherlands

Plastic pollution in the marine environment is an urgent global environmental challenge. Land-based plastics, emitted into the ocean through rivers, are believed to be the main source of marine plastic litter. According to the latest model-based estimates, most riverine plastics are emitted in Asia. However, the exact amount of global riverine plastic emission remains uncertain due to a severe lack of observation. Field-based studies are rare in numbers, focused on rivers in Europe and North America and used strongly varying data collection methods. We present a harmonized assessment of floating macroplastic transport from observations at 24 locations in rivers in seven countries in Europe and Asia. Visual counting and debris sampling were used to assess (1) magnitude of plastic transport, (2) the spatial distribution across the river width, and (3) the plastic polymer composition. Several waterways in Indonesia and Vietnam contain up to four orders of magnitude more plastic than waterways in Italy, France, and The Netherlands in terms of plastic items per hour. We present a first transcontinental overview of plastic transport, providing observational evidence that, for the sampled rivers, Asian rivers transport considerably more plastics towards the ocean. New insights are presented in the magnitude, composition, and spatiotemporal variation of riverine plastic debris. We emphasize the urgent need for more long-term monitoring efforts. Accurate data on riverine plastic debris are extremely important to improve global and local modeling approaches and to optimize prevention and collection strategies.

How to cite: van Calcar, C. and van Emmerik, T.: Abundance of plastic debris across European and Asian rivers, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-707,, 2019

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