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River clean-up in Ghent, Belgium

Plastic pollution in the ocean became a big topic over the past years. News about 8 million metric tons of plastic entering the ocean every year, micro plastic in the arctic ice and estimates that there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050 make us feel pretty helpless when confronting ourselves with our responsibility as a plastic consumer.

We cannot change our whole life and abandon the use of plastic forever, we cannot sail out to the pacific garbage patch every day and try to collect all the plastic (not even talking about micro plastic, which is smaller than 5 mm length and definitely not in a normal human’s power to be fished out of the water). But doing nothing because it seems like there is no way to change it anyways is also the wrong way how to approach the problem!

So, when we went for a kayaking trip in Ghent, we just collected all the trash we could find on our way through the river. About 80 % of the ocean plastics come from land-based sources, meaning for example beach littering, wind that carries trash from land into the water, and rivers. Since we are here in Ghent far away from beaches and the streets are fortunately kept clean through the city services, the river is the only source we can influence. Between 1.15 and 2.41 million tonnes of plastic waste enter the ocean every year from rivers, so its probably a good start for getting active in the plastic problem.

Waste in the rivers usually comes through so called mismanaged waste, which is either inadequately disposed material or litter. Luckily, there is a good waste management in

Belgium, where we are right now, so most of the waste should be disposed correctly, but not every country has this luxury. Especially in Asia are the hot spots of waste entry through rivers, so obviously, there you could probably collect within five minutes the same amount of trash as we did during our whole tour. Still, the ocean does not really care, where exactly the plastic came from, but the only important thing is in the end, if the waste is present or not! So, with every little bit of trash that we collect and dispose properly, either from rivers or litter on land, we contribute to a less polluted and healthier ocean. It might look like a small step – but even small steps bring us closer to our goal.

Want to read more about plastic in the oceans? Here you go:

1. Jambeck, J. R. et al. Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science 347, 768–771 (2015).

2. Lebreton, L. C. M. et al. River plastic emissions to the world’s oceans. Nat. Commun. 8, 10 (2017).

3. Ritchie, H. & Roser, M. Plastic Pollution. Our World in Data (2018). Available at: (Accessed: 28th November 2018)

4. The New Plastics Economy. Rethinking the future of plastics. (World Economic Forum, 2016).

5. Every minute, one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our oceans. This has to stop. World Economic Forum (2016). Available at: (Accessed: 28th November 2018)

6. Fact Sheet: Plastics in the Ocean. Earth Day Network (2018). Available at: (Accessed: 28th November 2018)


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