Plastic Pirates – Go Europe!

Created Oct. 5, 2020, 10:46 a.m.
Updated Oct. 5, 2020, 10:46 a.m.

Water makes up nearly two-thirds of the earth’s surface, and seas and the ocean have an enormous impact on the stability of our climate. Due to their diversity, bodies of water around the globe are a unique habitat for flora and fauna. If you live inland, far from the nearest sea, you may be asking yourselves what this all has to do with you? A lot! It may start with small rivers further inland that connect to other rivers, but they eventually reach the sea. Need an example? The Danube, Europe’s longest river, flows through a total of ten different countries before reaching the Black Sea after traversing some 2,850 kilometres. Unfortunately, it’s not just ships, fish and plant remains that make their way to the sea via rivers. Different types of plastic waste as well – particles hardly visible to the human eye as well as yogurt pots or entire plastic bags in equal measure – ultimately find their way to the ocean. The task In 2020, ‘capturing’ this waste on the riverbanks and near bodies of water becomes the Europe-wide task of the Plastic Pirates. By collecting plastic waste and uploading data on the amount of waste found, you – together with your school class or extracurricular youth group – can help conduct research on the pollution of bodies of water. You will use a range of methods to understand the pollution by waste in and around the river and to record your findings. The project booklet contains specific instructions for each method. You split into sub-groups, as different groups will tackle different aspects of the study. Uniform experimental guidelines and working steps for all teams which participate ensure that, throughout Europe, the data collected is comparable and will become visible step by step on an online map. On the one hand, the joint campaign of the ministries of education, science and research of the three countries is intended to raise awareness throughout Europe for the importance of rivers as common lifelines, as well as for protecting our natural resources. On the other hand, the campaign aims to emphasize the importance of international research collaboration.


The fascination for the ocean and rivers together with their importance as a guarantor of species diversity know no bounds. But plastic pollution on beaches and riverbanks in Europe also doesn’t stop at man-made borders. For this reason, avoiding micro- and macroplastics in the environment, a scientific approach to this challenge and researching sustainable materials are tasks which we Europeans must take on together. As part of their joint Trio-Presidency of the Council of the European Union for 2020 and 2021, Germany, Portugal and Slovenia are advocating particularly for clean seas, ocean and rivers, as well as the nature surrounding these waters. At the same time, school classes and youth groups are called upon to collect plastic waste along the banks of rivers and streams, to document the various types of the plastic waste collected at different points of a section of a river and actively support research as part of this international citizen science campaign. Are you a teacher or a leader of a youth group? Have you found a suitable stretch along a river or stream? Then you can get started! Using the detailed project materials, the types of waste identified by the individual groups (e.g. cigarette butts, pieces of film or packaging) are published on a digital map, thus assisting the scientific community in gradually closing gaps in the existing research on the amount of different types of plastic waste. The fight against pollution from plastic waste, for cleaner water and for preserving natural resources for future generations in a united Europe can only be a success if we – the citizens – actively support joint political initiatives in the places we live. Plastic Pirates – Go Europe! Are you on board?

How to participate

We call upon schools and extracurricular youth groups with young people aged 10 to 16 in the three EU member states Germany, Portugal and Slovenia to participate in the Plastic Pirates – Go Europe! citizen science campaign. Participating as a group (e.g. school class or extracurricular youth group) is a requirement because different subgroups have to be formed. This is the only way to ensure that the results of the project are comparable throughout Europe and that the data can be included in the scientific evaluation. Individuals can therefore not take part in Plastic Pirates – Go Europe!. Official registration is not necessary. School classes and extracurricular youth groups automatically take part when they publish what their Plastic Pirates found during an excursion along the banks of a river. Materials can be ordered online:

Needed equipment

Depending on the weather conditions and the terrain where the plastic waste is collected, participants first need appropriate clothing and, in particular, sturdy shoes. A sampling net for the campaign can be borrowed for free. Additional equipment that is necessary for the tasks of the different groups is listed in the project booklet.

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