Assi River, India

Project lead: Renew Oceans


The Assi River, a tributary of the Ganges River, lies in the heart of Varanasi, India. Varanasi is the holiest of seven sacred cities in India and holds incredible spiritual and cultural significance to the people of the region. Nearly 4000 years old, this ancient city is believed to be where the Buddha founded Buddhism and remains a center of religious education for Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. The Ganges, flowing for 2600 miles from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, is sacred to Hindus and is worshipped as the goddess Ganga. Beyond its religious importance, the river is a lifeline to millions of people in India.

Today, pollution is threatening the health of this sacred river. More than 200 animal species in the river are critically endangered, and in many places it has become too dangerous for people to interact with the water. A major factor in the river’s poor health, solid waste management is at a critical stage of development in India. More than 90% of waste in India is believed to be dumped in an unsatisfactory manner. Addressing these waste management concerns intersects closely with the state of urban poverty in India, where over a million people’s livelihoods rely on waste picking and recycling. The informal sector of waste pickers has an important role in filling the gaps of municipal efforts for solid waste management. A study of six Indian cities found that waste pickers recovered approximately 20% of waste, with 80,000 people involved in recycling approximately three million tons.

Intervention Plan

Renew Oceans is installing the ReFence plastic capture system in several locations on the Assi River to divert and collect plastic waste traveling to the Ganges River, thus removing it from ocean-bound pathways. ReFences are anchored to the riverbanks on both sides and push plastic waste into shallow waters where the waste can be easily removed by waste pickers. Waste pickers use nets to gather the diverted plastic from the ReFence and bring their collected plastic to a collection center, the Renew Shed, to receive payment. As the project progresses, Renew Oceans will develop automated collection devices to aid the waste pickers in safely and efficiently gathering plastic waste into riverside basins before transfer to the Renew Shed.

Once collected, rigid plastics will be baled for mechanical recycling and soft plastics will be converted to diesel fuel using Renewlogy’s Renew One mobile conversion system. Waste pickers will receive payment from sales of both the baled rigid plastics and diesel fuel. Over time, this system is intended to incentivize keeping all types of plastics, even traditionally low-value soft plastics, out of the environment.

Community Engagement

Renew Oceans’ outreach plan focuses on engaging the broader community living along the Assi River, through community engagement sessions, open dialogue events, and documentary screenings. The campaign emphasizes river cleanliness as a priority of local and national pride for Indians to inspire success and financial self-sustainability. The team is exploring additional avenues for inspiring behavior change to encourage recycling and proper waste disposal. Through an ongoing partnership with the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, Renew Oceans will share current project activities across their multimedia platforms (print and social).

The Team

Renew oceans logoRenew Oceans is a US-based non-profit organization working to reduce ocean plastic pollution in populous river-adjacent communities in the developing world through innovative technological solutions. Researchers in the Gray Lab at the University of California, Riverside are studying the quantity of plastics flowing through the Assi River using physical net samples and video survey methods. They are also developing a trash detection artificial intelligence algorithm.

Renew Oceans team photo


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