Garbage cleanup campaigns in rivers – what are the results?

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Despite the active participation of thousands of Poles in annual civic initiatives to clean up rivers, the issue of pollution remains a pressing problem. Waste such as beverage and food packaging regularly appears on riverbanks, abandoned by irresponsible tourists. In addition, the surrounding area also suffers from large-scale household garbage left behind. An analysis of the effectiveness of cleanup efforts to date raises the question of the real effects of these initiatives in terms of a lasting solution to the problem of waste along the waterfront.

Operation Clean River

Poland’s largest river litter cleanup initiative is. Operation Clean River. Since 2019, when it was launched, 36,704 people have already participated and more than 885 tons of garbage have been collected. Interest in participation is growing every year, unfortunately, so is the amount of garbage. One of the actions of this year’s edition was the cleaning of the banks of the Vistula River in Kazimierz Dolny. Several hundred volunteers signed up for it, and in two hours on Saturday, April 20, they removed more than 6 tons of waste from the landscape.

In the volunteers’ experience, plastic and glass bottles and disposable packaging most often end up in rivers. Some of the more surprising finds include bulky trash, such as household appliances or tires. Operation Clean River 2024 is still underway until tomorrow, so this year’s statistics will be known at a later date.

Other river litter cleanup actions

At the end of April and the beginning of May, a cleaning campaign was organized for the third time Clean Oder , an initiative of Dominik Dobrowolski. Launched after the environmental disaster on the Oder River , the campaign aims to protect rivers from littering, drawing on Dobrowolski’s 20 years of experience in the field. His actions are meant to encourage others to take care of clean waters.

Volunteers from the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany took part in this year’s edition, cleaning up the Oder River and its tributaries – from its source in Czech Moravia to its mouth on the Baltic Sea. Within the ca. 200 cleanup actions carried out on rivers such as the Oder, Olza, Mała Panew, Stobrawa, Barycz, Warta, Ina, Opava, Nysa Klodzka, Bystrzyca, Beaver and Nysa Luzycka, more than 21 thousand. People removed 165 tons of trash from the water. In addition, 1.5 million pike and pike-perch have been released into the Oder River as part of stocking and biodiversity restoration efforts. The Clean Oder Action not only contributes to improving the condition of rivers, but also mobilizes the international community to act together to protect the environment.

Smaller river cleanup projects are taking place across the country. An example is the action to clean up the Prague bank of the Vistula near Rusalka beach, organized by the Greenery Management of the city of Warsaw. Warsaw. To celebrate Earth Day and the WWF’s Earth Hour, approximately. Thirty employees and volunteers of WWF Poland and their families. Both from the shore and with the help of kayaks, dozens of bags of trash were collected. There was also waste that didn’t fit in the bags, such as a bathtub, toilet bowl, or mattress.

At Water Matters, we also recognize the problem of insufficient care for the water environment, which is why we are organizing an educational campaign for the second time: 10 Deadly Sins of the Unaware Tourist . Together with our campaign partners, we want to raise awareness about waterfront behavior that, while it may seem innocent and seemingly harmless, actually has serious consequences for the environment.

Floating plastic and microplastic particles

Scientific studies show that plastic trash in rivers causes problems not only visible to the naked eye. Discarded garbage bags or plastic bags in the water create a favorable environment for the proliferation of pathogenic bacteria. Results of microbiological studies, published in the periodical Microbiom , showed the presence of pathogenic bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Acinetobacter and Aeromonas on plastic samples taken from flowing water 1 kilometer from the wastewater treatment plant. It turns out that there are more of these microorganisms on used plastic than on driftwood branches. In addition, a higher percentage of them have antibiotic resistance genes.

When large fragments of plastic linger in the river for a long time, they degrade, leading to microplastic entering the water. This problem is becoming more common as microplastics are being discovered in many elements of the environment, including human and animal bodies. In the publication Fragmentation of macroplastics in rivers Scientists have found that polystyrene disposable dishes, Styrofoam and pieces of foil break down the fastest. Factors such as the energy of the water flow, the depth of the river, as well as the type and shape of the plastic, among others, affect the plastic shredding process.

However, before the waste turns into microplastics, we can take preventive measures. This is crucial because once transformed into microplastics, garbage becomes much more difficult to eliminate and significantly more complicates the problem of water pollution. Proper waste management at an early stage is therefore essential to prevent the problem from escalating.

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