Technology and partnerships for Zero Plastic Rivers

Over the last months, we have been working hard to find ways to reduce riverine plastic pollution. Conceptually, it is not that difficult. First, prevent new plastic waste to enter a river and second, remove the plastic which is already in the river. However, the practical implementation of this conceptually simple and straightforward approach is extremely complex and difficult. For this purpose, we have cut the overall approach into different parts. Part 1 concerns measuring the actual plastic pollution of a river. Part 2 is about removing existing plastic waste from a river. And part 3 consists of preventing new plastic waste to enter a river.
Each of these three “partial problems” constitute a challenging problem on their own. Due to the multidisciplinary character, cooperation of different actors from industry, government, academia and civilian organisations is necessary.

First, we have been focusing on the aspect of removal of riverine plastic pollution. The first step was to bring this issue to the attention of relevant partners. To do this, we needed a concrete pilotproject which we have found in the plastic pollution of the river Scheldt in Belgium. We have then contacted “De Vlaamse Waterweg” (www.vlaamsewaterweg.be) which is the governmental organisation that manages the river Scheldt. We then have contacted a number of companies in the domain of marine engineering (e.g.: http://www.demegroup.com) to discuss the topic. Building on these discussions, “De Vlaamse Waterweg” has issued a request for proposal for the design, construction and implementaton of actual systems for the effective and efficient removal of riverine plastic pollution. As a result, a number of important companies have taken up the challenge and are ready to start the construction of such removal systems (see the following link (in Dutch): https://www.tijd.be/ondernemen/milieu-energie/deme-klaar-om-plastic-op-schelde-te-vangen/10086225.html). And other companies are also working to design and build systems for the removal of riverine plastic pollution at industrial scale.

Although Zero Plastic Rivers initiated this initiative by clearly articulating the problem and by contacting and bringing together the appropriate parties, the next steps of this story are entirely in the hands of the involved companies and organisations.
So, Zero Plastic Rivers is now focusing on the following aspect of the overall problem, i.e. measuring plastic pollution of a river by means of an automated and sensor-based measurement system. This task is even more complex as it requires not only marine engineering, but also high-tech such as e.g. sensor technology that can detect all kinds of plastic waste in a river (characterized by factors such as turbidity, tidal effects, naval traffic, …), artificial intelligence and Internet-of-Things.

To cope with this complexity, we are talking with a number of relevant technology companies (such as Fujitsu: http://www.fujitsu.com) and companies active in marine engineering. Over the next weeks, a number of important meetings are planned to bring us closer to a partnership that is capable to design and build such a complex measurement system.

If we could actually bring this into reality, this would be a first, as this has never been done before.

Cross fingers and one step at a time!

You can find more information on our website: http://www.zeroplasticrivers.com.

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