A team of researchers from the University of Hull are documenting plastic waste in one of the world’s most polluted mega-rivers, with the aim of developing solutions to mitigate the mounting issue.
The project, which was funded in part by the National Geographic Society, will allow researchers to better understand plastic pollution in some of the world’s rivers and also gain a better understanding of how plastic waste travels through the Mekong – which is home to 60m people.
Called ‘River of Plastic’ it is the first study of its kind looking at plastic transport along a mega-river - from source to the ocean, collecting unique data about the ultimate fate of plastic.
Despite evidence showing the top 20 polluting rivers contribute to more than 67 per cent of waste to the world’s oceans, there has been no systematic study of plastic transportation in these mega-rivers.
This project aims to fill critical knowledge gaps around how plastic moves through the Mekong– and ultimately help predict how plastic travels through river systems.
Dr Chris Hackney, at the University of Hull, said: “Predicting plastic transport in rivers is vital to evaluate its social and environmental threat, where it impacts multiple food chains and to develop solutions to mitigate ocean pollution.
“More than two thirds of marine plastic waste originates from mega-rivers and the Mekong is one of the most polluted in the world. Understanding how plastic flows along the Mekong into the ocean is key to reducing its impact.”
Researchers will collect samples from 15 sites along the Mekong from Laos to Vietnam, at different depths in the water.
Data will allow the development of new models to predict the distribution of plastic waste in rivers and as it enters the ocean. These will be crucial for future predicting how plastic travels through global rivers systems as well as how different sources of plastic enters the marine environment.
Dr Hackney said: “Different plastics have different densities, although currently unquantified, this results in plastic being transported at different depths in rivers, and ultimately oceans. Less than one per cent is found at the surface, whilst the remaining 99 per cent is unaccounted for. Quantifying plastic distribution with depths is key to understanding its source and how it is transported in rivers and oceans.”
As well as looking at plastic transportation, the team will document their research and will help local communities across the Mekong Basin produce their own videos and messages which will capture their relationship with plastic.