Division and retention of floating plastic at river bifurcations

Khoa L. van Thi*, Tim H.M. van Emmerik, Bart Vermeulen, Nhan Q. Pham, A.J.F. Hoitink

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The transport of floating macroplastics (>2.5 cm) can be impacted by variations in hydrometeorological forcing. Several studies have demonstrated that river discharge, wind, and tides can either accelerate or impede the downstream travel path of plastic. However, there remains a substantial gap in our understanding of the impact of river geomorphological complexity on this process. In this context, the role that river bifurcations play in driving plastic dynamics under different hydrometeorological conditions is largely unexplored. Here, we show that specific plastic item categories react differently to the transport drivers, and bifurcation areas can function both as a retention and release site of plastic litter. We found that hard polyolefin appears to be the most responsive plastic to changes in flow discharge (ρ≈0.40, p≈0.01). Absolute wind velocity magnitude does not correlate to plastic transport. We explored correlations of the various plastic items types with wind vector components in all directions. Multilayer plastics correlated highest to the wind vector component that is most effective in driving plastics from an urban area to the river (ρ≈0.57, p≈0.0001). On a monthly scale, the bifurcation area retained up to 50% of the incoming upstream plastic flux. At other times, an additional 30% was released in the same area. Our results demonstrate how bifurcations distribute different plastic items types downstream under varied hydrometeorological conditions. These yields underscore the importance of assessing floating plastic transport in specific plastic item categories and taking river geomorphological complexity into account.

Original languageEnglish
Article number123490
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2024


  • Plastic flux balance
  • Red River
  • River discharge
  • River geomorphology
  • Viet Nam
  • Wind


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