Researchers from the university of Antwerp have been deliberately throwing plastic into the River Scheldt at three locations, to try to find out exactly how the waste finds its way to the open sea.
The ecosystem Management Group (Ecobe) has chosen sites along the river at Wintam, Dendermonde and Melle. All are upstream of the city of Antwerp – Melle is just outside the Ghent ring-road, while Wintam, the closest to the port, is 18km from the city centre.
The whole section of the river, from Melle to the North Sea, covers about 150km, yet somehow plastic and other kinds of waste manage to navigate their way to the sea.
“We want to map out how plastic items behave once in the river,” said biologist Bert Teunkens.
“We are looking into how long it takes before plastic from the Scheldt reaches the North Sea and what the effect of the tides is. Furthermore, the project should also provide us with additional insights into the interaction between the river and the banks, whereby items wash up on the banks on the one hand and return to the river on the other.”
The researchers are using plastic in fluorescent yellow to make it easier to track. And they have called on the public to help them.
Anyone who finds one of the items is invited to scan the QR code and register it on a website, and then return the item to the water so that it can continue its journey.
Another 30 plastic items, this time in fluo orange, have been equipped with a GPS transmitter, so that the researchers can track it more accurately.
This is not the first time the team has carried out the same experiment. Last last year they released another load of plastic into the river, but only around 10% of the load was recovered – not enough for them to draw firm conclusions.
Nonetheless, the objects recovered had travelled far: not only along the banks of the estuary where ships approach Antwerp, but also in the Westerschelde, the northern blanch of the river that passes through the Netherlands. Many items never moved far from the place where they were released, but one managed to make it to the beach between Ostend and Bredene, where it was found six months later.