Plastic pollution in rivers and oceans is a major concern for natural habitats, marine animals and human beings. The contamination is caused by products ranging from food packaging to prostheses and construction pipes. As these materials break down, their debris progressively accumulate on remote shorelines, sea surfaces and even the deep ocean. They smother the seabed inhibiting gas exchanges with overlying waters, leach out harmful chemicals and can be ingested by plants and animals, passing durable microscopic contaminants to organisms higher up the food chain. Removing these “plastic soups” from vast water bodies is challenging. One solution to prevent plastic waste from building up in oceans is to catch it in the rivers that are considered as the main pathway for transport of land-based plastic waste to the oceans.
The LIFE SouPLess project aims to demonstrate three new systems for riverine plastic removal and an innovative software tool to predict movement and accumulation hotspots of plastic litter in rivers. First it will develop a software that predicts where plastic waste accumulates in rivers. It will then demonstrate new water treatment techniques for removing micro-plastic from the rivers. In more detail, the software will notably analyse flow characteristics, river morphology, weather conditions and potential sources of pollution to calculate the optimal location for recovering plastic flowing down waterways. LIFE SouPLess will then deploy innovative plastic recovery techniques at these pollution hotspots in efforts to maximise the efficiency of clean-up campaigns. One technique uses a helical coil that channels currents to guide litter towards a filtering barrier, a collection facility and a waste monitoring system. Another uses a device that blows a constant curtain of bubbles underwater, hindering the passage of litter and contaminants. Using an additional pump and filtering module, project partners expect the bubbles to also halt the spread of microplastics in water bodies and help remove them from natural ecosystems.
The project will support the EU Water Framework Directive by tackling pollution in European water bodies and contribute to the Marine Strategy Framework Directive by reducing the amount of plastic waste making its way to the ocean.