Determining the Sources of Litter in Rivers for CEN

28th November 2014

Addressing a key need in the monitoring of litter pollution, Eunomia was commissioned by the Clean Europe Network in June to design and assess the feasibility of a method for determining sources of litter in rivers.

Eunomia has now designed and assessed a method, and funding from the EU Environmental Funding Programme Life+ is being sought to continue its development. It is hoped that it will be piloted in full in the period 2015-2017.

Litter monitoring is a complex task because this form of pollution is extremely variable over space and time, and it has a multitude of highly dispersed sources. Global efforts are under way to understand the worldwide fluxes of these lost materials as they make their way to their final destination – the sea. One vector is fresh water, which appears to be a key pathway by which land-sourced litter, held to constitute 80% of marine litter, enters the sea.

Rivers are a good juncture for monitoring of land-sourced litter. They act like a funnel through which litter travels, so samples a small area of river can give a representative view of the litter situation on a much wider area of land.




Eunomia’s assessment method involves the monitoring of riverine litter upstream and downstream of a test area. When abatement measures targeting particular sources of litter are implemented, monitoring work before and after can be used to assess its effectiveness.

It is designed to provide several useful kinds of information:

  • The contribution of localities to riverine litter – to enable the measurement and achievement of the Clean Europe Network’s proposed target of a 25% reduction in land-sourced litter entering the aquatic environment by 2025.
  • Sources of litter in rivers – i.e. from which sectors the litter arises, to inform the sources to target.
  • Efficacy of abatement measures – to provide real data on their effectiveness.

Dr Chiarina Darrah, Consultant at Eunomia and one of the principal authors of the work said:

“So much attention has been given to marine litter and a quantitative headline target was recently proposed by the European Commission. Now it’s time to join the dots and do the same for land sourced litter, which contributes a great deal to the wide ranging impacts this ‘waste in the wrong place’ has on people and animals.”

Dr Chris Sherrington, Principal Consultant at Eunomia, who directed the project commented:

“This was a very timely and important piece of work for CEN to commission. It is much more effective, and cost-effective to prevent litter reaching the aquatic environment in the first place than to seek to remove it after the event. This methodology will help to fill an important knowledge gap in determining the relative impacts of different interventions.

The results of the feasibility study will be presented at the Stop Litter Now! Conference, organised by the Clean Europe Network, 9-10 December in Brussels.


Photo credit: Ian Kirk, via Wikimedia Commons