Plastic hotspot mapping in urban water systems

Paolo Tasseron, Hestia Zinsmeister, Liselotte Rambonnet, Auke Florian Hiemstra, Daniël Siepman, Tim van Emmerik*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Reducing plastic pollution in rivers, lakes, and oceans is beneficial to aquatic animals and human livelihood. To achieve this, reliable observations of the abundance, spatiotemporal variation, and composition of plastics in aquatic ecosystems are crucial. Current efforts mainly focus on collecting data on the open ocean, on beaches and coastlines, and in river systems. Urban areas are the main source of plastic leakage into the natural environment, yet data on plastic pollution in urban water systems are scarce. In this paper, we present a simple method for plastic hotspot mapping in urban water systems. Through visual observations, macroplastic abundance and polymer categories are determined. Due to its simplicity, this method is suitable for citizen science data collection. A first application in the Dutch cities of Leiden and Wageningen showed similar mean plastic densities (111–133 items/km canal) and composition (75–80% soft plastics), but different spatial distributions. These observations emphasize the importance of long-term data collection to further understand and quantify spatiotemporal variations of plastics in urban water systems. In turn, this will support improved estimates of the contribution of urban areas to the plastic pollution of rivers and oceans.

Original languageEnglish
Article number342
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalGeosciences (Switzerland)
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2020


  • Citizen science
  • Hydrology
  • Macroplastic
  • Marine litter
  • Observations
  • Plastic pollution
  • Plastic soup
  • The Netherlands

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