United Nations
Zero Plastic Rivers
by Zero Plastic Rivers vzw (Non-governmental organization (NGO))
The project "Zero Plastic Rivers" as initiated by the NGO "Zero Plastic Rivers vzw" has the objective to develop and implement systems, methods and best practices to significantly reduce the influx of macro-plastic waste via rivers and waterways into the seas and oceans where it adds to the plastic soup.
In other words, the ultimate goal of the project is to prevent the plastic soup from growing.

This overall goal is translated into three specific complementary subgoals: measurement and monitoring, prevention, remediation.
The first subgoal is "Measurement and Monitoring", which relates to the design, elaboration and implementation of an effective, efficient and validated measurement system that enables to measure the plastic pollution of any specific river with a known accuracy. This is necessary to enable the measurement of the current level of riverine plastic pollution as well as to measure the impact of improvement measures. We are investigating two approaches. The first is to measure the plastic pollution on the basis of sampling. For this purpose, a doctoral research project is being initiated at the University of Antwerp. The second approach relates to the use of sensor-technology, e.g. hyperspectral imaging. For this purpose, we are investigating cooperation with the Catholic University of Leuven as well as with other organisations and research institutes (e.g. Imec).

The second subgoal is "Prevention", which aims at preventing plastic litter to enter rivers and waterways. This can only be achieved if societal actors (civilians, companies, ...) change their behaviour in such way that plastic waste does not end up in the environment, neither accidently nor otherwise. To achieve this, we are building a network of (civilian) volunteers and organizations that will take appropriate actions by informing and convincing people to actively prevent plastic waste from entering our environment. We currently are forming such teams in the cities of Antwerp en Ghent, and are discussing with governmental organizations (e.g. OVAM) on how we can cooperate and reinforce each other to achieve this goal.
The third subgoal "Remediation" aims at removing plastic waste from rivers and waterways before it reaches the sea. This will involve the design, building and implementation of technical installations (e.g. Baltimore Trash Wheel, ...). Since this involves important (infrastructural) investments which need to be done by the appropriate authorities, Zero Plastic Rivers vzw will mainly support by connecting people and by providing information and assistance for analysis and studies.

The main differentiators of Zero Plastic Rivers are as follows:

1. The goal to create and implement a validated measurement system which allows to measure riverine plastic pollution;
2. An multidisciplinary, integrated and science-based approach;
3. Proof of Concept at the river Scheldt, which is extremely suited since it is intensively monitored and managed;
4. The project is complementary to existing initiatives concerning marine and riverine plastic pollution;
5. The project is initiated and managed as a civilian initiative which can operate across existing initiatives and organizations of all types (government, academia, private sector, NGO's, ...) inside and outside Belgium;
6. Clearly identified goals, targeted strategy, effective project management, capable and knowledgeable partners.
Progress reports
By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution
Type of commitment
  • Other (please specify): As accurate as possible measurement of riverine plastic pollution, using a validated measurement system. Prevention of plastic waste to enter rivers and waterways.
  • Plastics recovery/recycling/reuse:
December 2017
Creation of a (social) network that operates to prevent riverine plastic pollution by informing people and creating behavioural change
July 2018
Overview and assessment of existing technologies and systems to remove plastic
June 2018
Assessment of the feasibility to design, create and implement a sensor-technology-based measurement system for the plastic pollution of a river
September 2018
Method for the measurement of plastic pollution of the river Scheldt by means of sampling
Financing (in USD)
360,000 USD
In-kind contribution
In-kind contribution will be requested for specif aspects of individual projects as well as for the overall program
Other, please specify
Volunteering: Projects related to information and behavioral change will be done as much as possible by volunteers (civilians as well as organizations)
Staff / Technical expertise
Where possible, research will be conducted by or with the help of staff and technical expertise of partners. An example of such research project is the assessment of the feasibility to design, create and implement a sensor-technology-based measurement sys
Basic information
Time-frame: 01/01/2017 - 31/12/2030
Zero Plastic Rivers vzw (Non-governmental organization), University of Antwerp (Academic institution), Port of Antwerp (Intergovernmental organization) ), nv Waterwegen en Zeekanaal (Government), Greengineering (Private sector), Conscious Crew(NGO)
Ocean Basins
  • North Atlantic
Beneficiary countries
Other beneficaries
The ultimate beneficiary is the global marine ecosystem, since the project aims at reducing the growth of the plastic soup which is present in the world's seas and oceans.
Contact information
Dirk Pauwels, Founder, dirk.pauwels@zeroplasticrivers.com, +32 473 91 75 69
Turnhout, Belgium
Other SDGs
United Nations