On the second day of the programme, the Tid(y)Up - Save Our Rivers! INTERREG DTP project conference was held within the framework of the Danube Transnational Programme, co-financed by the EU.
The topic of the online and on-site conference was the conservation of our freshwaters, and it saw experts and representatives of the field from all around Europe presenting methods for measuring river pollution, the idea of establishing a common knowledge-sharing platform and the possibilities of recycling river waste.
Waste pollution has an increasing impact on natural water bodies: researchers claim that approximately 12 million tonnes of waste enters the aquatic ecosystem every year. Marine plastic pollution (together with other types of waste) reaches the oceans via rivers, thus the issue of far-away waste islands is looming above land-locked countries as well, demanding all-embracing solutions. Complex problems require complex solutions: coordinated interventions, unified measurements, modern waste management, awareness raising and prevention are needed.
EFFORTS AT THE DANUBE BASIN
Inspired by the complex challenge, a summit of water-saviours took place on the M. V. Europe Ship and on the online platform instead of the usual kick-off event, pointed out Dr. Viktor Oroszi, Hungarian national coordinator of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region, representing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary. He emphasized the effects of the target numbers specified by the EU regulations: the member states will be obliged to collect 90% of PET plastic bottles by 2029 and use 30% recycled plastic in plastic bottle production by 2030. The EU Strategy for the Danube Region (EUSDR) cooperates with nine member states to preserve the water quality in the Danube Basin. JOINTISZA – a project focusing on drafting a Tisza River Basin Management Plan – was launched in 2019 and concluded that the biggest problem is still illegal waste disposal and depositing untreated municipal waste at freshwaters. As a result, thousands of tonnes of waste arrive to Hungary from Ukraine and Romania. The EUSDR’s main focus is restoring and preserving water quality at their four Priority Areas; and seeing the results achieved by the Plastic Cup during the last eight years, the EUSDR decided to support the Tid(y)Up! project both financially and with networking. Dr. Viktor Oroszi claimed that the EU regulations widely supported the goals of the project, the presidents of the countries in the Danube Basin had extensive correspondence and consultations on the matter, thus the future of having cleaner rivers got closer than ever before in the past few decades.
STEPS TO BLOCK, COLLECT AND RECYCLE ON THE RIVER TISZA
Péter Kovács, Head of Division at the Ministry of Interior of Hungary and discussion leader at the negotiations on border water, stressed that last year the representatives of the Tisza Basin countries signed a collaboration agreement to come to a solution regarding the waste issue. As a representative of the water sector, Mr Kovács informed the participants that the water management directorates and the Ministry of Interior of Hungary were in daily contact with the experts of the other Tisza Basin countries, the water quality was being monitored, and a 1.3 billion HUF investment was implemented to block and extract the waste arriving via the Upper Tisza. He claimed that although it was only an end-of-pipe solution, it could reduce river pollution before preventive efforts achieved comprehensive success.
Gusztáv Csomor, representing the Hungarian Ministry of Finance and the Danube Transnational Program Managing Authority, emphasised the necessity of international cooperation, which the Tid(y)Up! Project incarnated. Mr Csomor added that the project raised very high expectations, since time is of essence, and he hoped that the project would further enrich the available toolsets and package of proposals, increase the number of people reached by awareness raising campaigns, and propose practical solutions to eliminate the pollution.
Attila Dávid Molnár, president of Filmjungle.eu Society considered swimming in rivers a far-fetched dream just two years ago, but a friend living at the Danube told him: „You’ll see that rivers will soon be cleaner and safer for swimming!” Although river water is still not suitable for drinking, swimming is already possible at several locations. Maybe one day they will be drinkable, too…
As a documentary filmmaker, he had been showing the world from behind his camera, but now the whole crew ended up being filmed. They had to step up and actively participate in the project to demonstrate that the collaboration of many can bring great results. Even though the amount of collected waste seems far too small compared to the extent of the pollution at first, participating in clean-up projects changes perception and inspires pollution-conscious behaviour later on. The number of participants increases every year, and so does the amount of collected waste. By now, the Plastic Cup has become a year-long sequent of programmes, and awareness raising events and river clean-up actions are organised continuously.
Twenty years have passed since the cyanide catastrophe radically changed things at the banks of the Tisza, and while life has started reappearing, pollution has worsened to top our past sins. The goal of the Plastic Cup is to encourage the locals and to motivate those living at the river banks to get back to their “Beloved Beautiful Blonde Tisza”, and enjoy her bounty.
The Plastic Cup recycles waste in its fight for nature, and after collecting, sorting, grinding and melting plastic materials, they are turned into floating jetties or plastic flat-boats. In addition to that, the organisers pay special attention to research and monitoring, and have been working on locating the most polluted areas for years by now. The results of all this effort were collected in the Clean Tisza Map, where thousands of little dots show the exact places of waste culmination. Clean-up actions focus primarily on these places and the map makes the work more efficient and traceable.
Owing to the Tid(y)Up! project, right now 10 partners from 7 different countries are working on cleaning the river, including universities, research centres and governmental and non-governmental organisations. The Plastic Cup has eight years of experience and tangible results (120 tonnes of extracted waste, up-cycled products and thousands of registered locations of piled-up waste), thus they can offer considerable help to any organisation struggling with river pollution all over the world.
The goals of the Tid(y)Up! / F(ol)low the Plastic from the source to the sea programme:
- achieving a shift in plastic pollution awareness in local communities,
- promoting changes in the legislation at local, regional and national levels,
- strengthening cooperation among intersectoral parties with innovative measures aiming at improving the water quality of the River Tisza from its source to the Black Sea,
- building knowledge and database in order to prepare decision makers, authorities and locals for plastic pollution prevention and management,
- Improved water quality owing to harmonised protocols for measuring micro- and macroplastic.
RESEARCHING AND MEASURING PLASTIC WASTE IN MARINE WASTE
Preventing and Calculating Marine Plastic Litter
Dr. Costas Velis, lecturer at the University of Leeds and leader of ISWA Marine Litter Task Force, talked about the efforts made so far and about the results of the research focusing on the quantity of the waste reaching the oceans. https://plasticpollution.leeds.ac.uk/
The methodology of their research is based on system approach: they look for possible solutions involving various sectors of the industry, consumption patterns, infrastructure and lack of knowledge.
Waste management was invented approx. 200 years ago to further public hygiene, but since then it has become of crucial importance also regarding environmental issues and climate protection. The lack of appropriate waste management pollutes all of our resources. Today’s main topic is marine pollution, but the soil and the air suffer the same damage, the former due to inland littering, and the latter due to large-scale waste burning.
Thus 3 goals were set: modern waste collection everywhere; putting an end to littering and illegal waste disposal; abolishing waste disposal sites at river banks.
How to start?
Four steps were defined to help prevent plastic pollution:
- evaluate the sources of pollution and the afterlife of products (lifecycle of material streams),
- define the points of outflow and the main causes of pollution,
- identify and prioritize the most important tasks,
- regularly and locally re-examine the steps specified above, as the conditions change quickly.
Toolkits were also developed to measure plastic pollution: https://plasticpollution.leeds.ac.uk/toolkits/p2o/
-P2O (Plastic to ocean): The first step was collecting data on the treatment of waste streams, and the results were shocking – it became clear that immediate intervention was needed. According to current trends, 1.3 billion tonnes of plastic would enter the ocean by 2040, and nearly 2 billion tonnes would be burnt. Complex and multi-faceted solutions would be needed to avoid that: prevention, substitution, design, modernised collection, larger-scale re-use, P2P recycling, chemical recycling, closed landfills, reduced waste export, reduced marine pollution (fishing).
Aspects, factors: methods of soil usage, public sanitation solutions (methods of cleaning streets), geography, collection frequency, utilization, tourism statistics (number of tourist), waste management and deposition, sewage water and sewage system, burning and uncollected waste, leakage during transportation, overloaded skips, types of waste collecting bins, direction of wind, street littering, precipitation, events – festivals, leakage from dumpsters, trash sifting, kerbside collection…
- Plastic Pollution Calculator: https://plasticpollution.leeds.ac.uk/toolkits/calculator/
The level of development is very different in every settlement, and as a consequence the nature of problems also varies. Smaller, less accessible villages face difficulties concerning collection and burning, whereas cities need to tackle littering and increased amounts of waste due to tourism and events. The ISWA calculator starts with evaluating the starting point, i.e. the present level of pollution, and then intervention fields can be added. This way groups of logical problems can be created, and solution patterns can be assigned to each.
What are the most common types of waste? When does pollution reach its peak? What is the source and reason of pollution?
- SPOT: https://plasticpollution.leeds.ac.uk/toolkits/spot/
Spatio-temporal quantification of Plastic pollution Origins and Transportation (SPOT)
- WFD: https://plasticpollution.leeds.ac.uk/toolkits/wfd/
The Waste Flow Diagram (WFD) offers solutions at a regional level, it focuses on catchment areas and defines the distribution of waste management along these lines
Dr. Ádám Kovács, an expert of the ICPDR (International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River), talked about the extent of plastic pollution at the Danube Basin and the efforts made to tackle the problem. The catchment area of the Danube is one of the most versatile in the world: it stretches over 800,000 km2 in altogether 19 countries, 86 million people live at its territory, and the discharge of the river is 6500 m3/s. As a consequence, cross-border cooperation is indispensable. First agreements were made, then the EU developed the Water Framework Directive, and the ICPDR was made responsible for its implementation – including the Danube Basin Management Plan. The ICDPR identified five main issues regarding water management: natural pollution, organic nutrient pollution, hazardous materials (chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers), hydromorphological alternations and the effects of climate change. Plastic pollution does not fit in either category, but the research and the regulations give explicit consideration to the issue.
Dr. Kovács presented two Austrian researches, both of which examined the extent of plastic pollution. The results highlight the presence of large amounts of industrial waste and the great variety of sources. The River Tisza plays a crucial role in polluting the Danube; the JOINTISZA project tackled the issue by removing municipal waste from source territories and excavating landfills on the river banks. One of the most comprehensive investigations on surface water, the Joint Danube Survey of 2019 is still being evaluated. For further information visit their website: http://www.danubesurvey.org/jds4/
Dr. Ádám Kovács also highlighted the importance of having a unified platform for the different actors, and sharing research findings and best practices.
Building on the Dr. Costas’ words, Joao Sousa, Senior Project Manager at IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), used complex approach in his presentation entitled “The marine plastic footprint” to demonstrate the problem, the main sources of pollution and the possible solutions.
The IUCN makes efforts at different parts of the world to divert plastic from aquatic ecosystems and keep it in circulation. IUCN projects are detailed here. Their MARPLASTICCS Project for instances takes place in Africa and Asia, and it cooperates with governments and companies to tighten regulations and improve waste collection practices.
The Plastic Waste-Free Islands project operates in three regions: the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and Oceania. It compares the situation in 8 islands from the three different territories focusing on the employment of inhabitants, usage of waste generated on the island and taken there by the water, and manufacturing products to improve the infrastructure of the islands.
The know-how of the projects is freely available to download. In 2020, they published as many as four studies on the topic: The Marine Plastic Footprint; The Mediterranean: Mare plasticum; Plasticus Mare Balticum; Review of plastic footprint methodologies.
Based on their findings, they published a framework and guidance, which set three priorities:
- Identify the main sources for each stream and type of material, and discover the route and method that lead the waste to the water bodies.
- Prioritize the most important involvement fields for the given country, interest groups and plastic value chain.
- Use background materials and lobbying to support governments and lead them toward tools for implementing intervention.
Emőke Takács, a Lecturer at the University of Amsterdam and the managing director of the European Research Institute Hungary Non-profit Ltd (ERI Hungary), shared the observations drawn from the VisPO Project, which aims for the sustainable usage of the Danube and the Po. The key to the project is using the power of volunteer work, clean-up actions and educational programmes to raise awareness about rivers’ role in recreation, tourism and nature conservation, and to highlight the importance of reintegrating rivers into the people’s lives. In addition to that, they sensitized the young by involving them in taking samples and evaluating them. They conveyed a public survey to prove that the people would welcome more direct access to rivers and more severe retribution for polluting rivers and illegal dumping.
On the 4th November, an integrated seminar was organised as part of the Tid(y)Up! INTERREG DTP project with the goal of laying the foundations of a harmonised measurement protocol for microplastic river pollution. Each of the 7 countries participating in the Tid(y)Up! Project was represented by one expert (Gábor Bordós microplastic researcher represented Hungary) during the half-day-long programme. Maja Petrovic Assistant Professor of the University of Novi Sad summarised the sources, effects and characteristics of microplastic as well as the results of workshop. The attending experts gave account of the observations, methodology and findings of their past microplastic measurements with the goal of unifying the different sampling methods (using pumps, plankton and neuston nets, sampling without local filtering). This direction of development is crucial for the comparability of data.
After discussing the different research methods at the seminar, the “FTIR” and the Raman spectroscopic method was deemed suitable to produce comparable results using a unified evaluation system on the samples taken at different times (with regards to the specificities of the weather and the discharge) at 8 different locations (Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria) as part of the Tid(y)Up! Project.
This was the end of the Problems section; the meeting continued with the Solutions section.
REMEDIATION ACTIONS AND TEST PROJECTS
Dr. Hajnalka Hegedűs, groundwater management expert from the General Directorate of Water Management, opened the section in the presence of the representatives of 38 countries, and talked about the waste blocking system implemented on the Tisza last year; her lecture was entitled „Presentation of the remediation sites and methods on river Tisza”. She listed the greatest challenges Hungarian water directorates had to face, including the fact that 90% of Hungary’s natural water arrived from across the borders, which often predefined the quality of the water. She claimed that similarly to other countries, the General Directorate and the 12 regional water directorates of Hungary needed to fight oil pollution, contamination arriving with floods, increased organic matter pollution, floating debris and pollution from industrial accidents in order to provide good quality water. She also mentioned the African swine fever, due to which water directorates had been in constant alarm for two year, continuously monitoring the rivers arriving from Slovakia and Romania.
Changing the topic to the issue of waste pollution on the Tisza, Dr. Hegedűs explained that four remediation sites were appointed (on 3 rivers: Tisza, Bodrog and Szamos) as a reaction to the more than a decade-long waste pollution, and a waste capturing machinery chain was developed and implemented owing to the support of the Ministry of Interior and the General Directorate of Water Management – the project was called Upper Tisza Zero Waste. She added that the investment cost 1.3 billion HUF, and the remediation sites and the machinery chain were completed by installing waste signalling cameras in the upstream countries.
After the waste was collected, the Plastic Cup joined the effort and started the sorting and recycling processes. In parallel to that, clean-up actions continued in the contaminated floodplain forests.
Continuing with the best practices, Gudrun Obersteiner Senior Lecturer of the University of Life Sciences and Natural Resources in Vienna, held a presentation entitled “Experiences about the Plastic Free Danube Project”, sharing her observations on cleaning the Danube and measuring plastic pollution. They also started the work with identifying the source and preparing transport models, and then continued with taking samples and making qualitative and quantitative measurements. Further resources were used to express expert opinion on regulations and legal background, increase capacity and raise awareness.
15 test locations were chosen randomly, which were examined every month to find accumulation hotspots. In addition to that, hydrodynamic models were used to learn more about the behaviour of plastic in rivers and identify probable locations of the most polluted areas.
A protocol was made for sorting waste, owing to which it became evident that 50% of the collected waste was packaging material (food and drinks), whereas polystyrene products, sports equipment and healthcare products amounted to 10% each. Using the protocol, the results were comparable to the results of the international research. An interesting observation was that polystyrene products reach the background area and the farther floodplain forests most often due to their low density.
For more information: https://plasticfreeconnected.com/
INTERNATIONAL TRENDS AND CHALLENGES IN RECYCLING PLASTIC
One of the star presenters of the day was Bernard Merkx, Managing Director of the Green Wave Plastic and Co-founder of Waste Free Oceans Foundation. Bernard already participated in waste redemption programmes at the Danube in the 90’s and he also visited the Plastic Cup earlier, thus he had a thorough knowledge of the state of Hungarian rivers. In his presentation, he talked about the latest achievements of plastic recycling and the latest products made from ocean waste, the development of which had been going on for more than a decade by then.
Waste Free Ocean helped recycle plastic bottles collected by the Plastic Cup in 2018-2019. The PET plastic was reborn in these bottles below:
They first started focusing on the collection of fishing nets from the marine litter in 2011, and used their work to exert an influence on legislative bodies and on the fishing sector. Since then, they have produced pallets, kayaks, buckets, benches, tables and design chairs from waste nets. The real breakthrough happened after 7 years of work, when they managed to use chemical recycling to turn the nets into threads again. They also proved that using recyclates reduces CO2 emission by 82%.
The key to larger-scale recycling and cleaner secondary raw materials is more effective sorting. It would also be crucial to establish green procurement and thus create market for recyclates.
Bernard also pointed out some products and waste streams that would raise challenges in the future and require solutions, for instances the ever growing amount of diaper waste, chewing gum waste at public places and waste accumulators arising from the new e-mobility.
Continuing with the innovative measures related to prevention, remediation and waste collection, Ramon Knoester Founding Director of CLEAR RIVERS reported on their new projects and the successes of waste collection and recycling in Borneo. Clear Rivers deals with clean-up actions, litter traps, educational programmes and creative recycling.
The litter traps installed in Rotterdam and Brussels work 24/7, but they don’t require further energy supply, they only need to be emptied once or twice every week. In the following months, the biggest litter trap of the Netherlands will be installed in the port of Schiedam with the goal to protect the natural environment from waste leakage coming from the port. By contrast, the litter traps of Indonesia need emptying twice per day – which exemplifies the extent of the pollution there. Malaysia has just installed their second litter trap, and another one trap is being designed for Budapest: it is expected to be installed in the beginning of 2021.
Naturally, recycling has long been a priority for Clear Rivers so that the loop closes and they can bring the best practices to as many companies, organisations and residents, as possible. This is how the floating islands of Clear Rivers first came to life, and ever since they have been fresh, green, living islands at the harbours of Rotterdam. Using 3D printing, Clear Rivers create design benches with pots for planting. They also produce building blocks, which are primarily used in the Borneo project. The litter traps are also made of 100% waste in the Netherlands, and they are very sturdy and resistant.
INNOVATIVE HUNGARIAN PROJECT FOR COLLECTING RIVER WASTE
Miklós Gyalai-Korpos, representing a Future Plastik Kft., presented their ongoing project (tender for an automated system cleaning industrial water, id. num. 2018-1.1.2-KFI-2018-00034) with the goal to build a complex system that could spot and collect river waste. The partial results of the project were shown at the conference: a hydrology model and the camera system watching the river, as well as a functioning model ship in a simulation of river water. The hydrological model was designed for the Hungarian section of the Bodrog with the goal to foretell the velocity of the floating waste arriving on the river and to reveal potential locations for collecting. The camera system also watches the Bodrog, and it signals when floating waste arrives on the river. At present, it uses motion sensors, but a recognition algorithm is being developed, which will be able to filter the pictures. Although the main result of the project, the ship that would enable waste removal had not been built yet, the presenter demonstrated its functioning using a model and explained the concept.
Joachim Quoden, a preventive and regulative solutions expert from EXPRA, put the icing on the cake with his presentation. He talked about extended producer responsibility and the possibilities it offered, the application of the new EU regulations, the prospect of achieving complete circulation of plastic and closing the loop.
Producer responsibility is an economic tool financed by the producer; it creates resources to manage collecting and recycling packaging materials. Hungary will also have to adapt to the packaging directive of the EU and switch from the system of environmental product tax to the system of extended producer responsibility by 2025. From the point of view of the Tisza, it is important that in Ukraine it is still debated whether they will use the EPR system or the product tax system.
Project co-funded by European Union funds (ERDF, IPA, ENI) with the financial contribution of partner states and institutions