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Plastic Origins, a participatory science project to map the plastic pollution of rivers

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  • Project driver: Surfrider Foundation Europe
  • Partners: technical partners: Data For Good,, Microsoft, Heuritech, METSYS,
  • Financial partners: Gobi, Sogeti, GROUPE MACIF, Nature et Découvertes, ADEME, the Ministry of Ecological Transition, the Interregional Direction of the Sea – SA & PACA, the ANCA Foundation.
  • Duration of project: Since 2019
  • Cost of project: about €80-100 K a year including HR (without counting many hours provided by volunteers in the field to develop digital tools; these hours are priceless).

Context of the project’s emergence:

All the world’s oceans and seas are now threatened by plastic waste. Its accumulation is caused by our inability to correctly manage it on land and its very slow degradation. This plastic waste threatens marine ecosystems and causes considerable economic and social problems.

Although rivers have been identified as major vectors of the introduction of waste into the marine environment, at present there is very little knowledge on the quantity and composition of the wastes transported by rivers.

Strategy and Objectives

The Plastic Origins project developed by Surfrider Foundation Europe is a participatory science project aimed at mapping the plastic pollution of river in France and the rest of Europe.

The project uses an artificial intelligence algorithm  to detect and count the wastes washed up on river banks. Volunteers can film the banks using a video analysis application that automatically detects visible wastes, counts them, geolocalises them and classifies them according to type. The wastes can also be signalled and classified manually.

This map will allow identifying the territories most affected, propose solutions to local actors and measure the evolution of pollution over time.

Surfrider Foundation Europe will report the project’s results at national and European levels to spread awareness among political decision-makers and encourage them to act.

Local actors can use these data to pinpoint the most polluted areas and highlight the need to act against this pollution.

The data collected will be accessible and downloadable by everyone from the site.

Thanks to these results, we (the community, decision-makers) will know where to act in priority and we will be able to measure the efficiency of our actions.


The project’s innovative nature


The use of an artificial intelligence algorithm to detect the presence of wastes on banks is innovative.

Participatory nature

The computer tools (internet sites, databases, artificial intelligence, etc.) used in the framework of the project have mostly been developed by volunteers. This has led to the drastic reduction of the project’s cost. The project would never have seen the light of day without their precious help.

Plastic Origins is a participatory science project. Surfrider Foundation Europe is seeking to involve a maximum number of volunteers, associations and river technicians in the data collection. Any citizen can participate. The collection of data in the field is open to all and can be done on foot along river banks or by kayak.

Results and perspectives

In this framework, the first beneficiaries will be the community that will enjoy healthier, cleaner and more functional natural spaces. The risk of seeing fragments of plastic and their additives bioaccumulate in the food chain will also be reduced. Research laboratories and public institutions will profit from the data collected and the experience acquired in the field. Furthermore, coastal towns will see a decrease in their costs linked to cleaning their beaches.

Lastly, the targets of the project are political decision-makers and the community. The project aims to encourage municipalities and conurbations to take measures to improve the management of plastic waste on their territory.

At present, this initiative permits awakening awareness of the origin of plastic pollution and the contribution of large cities distant from the coast.


The data collected will allow us to measure the efficiency of the measures taken to combat plastic pollution.

How can this project be duplicated in other areas?


Surfrider Foundation Europe wants this project to spread to a maximum number of rivers. People wishing to help us can contact us by email at


For further information

Photo credit : Surfrider Foundation Europe 

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