River Guardians: Meet the Teams of the Clean Currents Coalition

Author: Chase Brewster
Benioff Ocean Initiative

Where rivers flow, life is found. Like veins in our bodies, rivers carry water and nutrients across our planet, allowing both human civilization and nature to flourish. But rivers also act as one of the main conduits of plastic waste into the environment – the arteries that carry waste from land to the ocean. And as we clog these arteries with plastic, we threaten the health of our planet.

In our first blog, we introduced our solution to the challenge of river plastic waste: the Clean Currents Coalition. The heart and soul of the Clean Currents Coalition are the 9 innovative and dedicated teams across the world working tirelessly to make an impact on their communities, river systems, and ultimately, the ocean.

We are excited to introduce to you the 9 amazing teams of the Clean Currents Coalition, in their own words…

Greeneration Foundation, Citarum River, Indonesia

“Our Indonesian-Finnish partnership includes Greeneration Foundation, Waste4Change and RiverRecycle, working to intercept plastic waste in the Citarum River before it enters the Java Sea. The Citarum River is the largest and longest river in West Java, supporting 25 million people and 22% of the West Java area.

The Greeneration Foundation, Waste4Change, and RiverRecycle teams discussing plans for the Citarum River. (Photo: Greeneration Foundation)

“With our capture system, we aim to collect 70 tons of waste per day. All recyclables will be recycled responsibly while low value waste will be processed using pyrolysis technology. Simultaneously, we will conduct communications and outreach aimed to improve awareness toward more responsible waste management. Once this pilot project is successful, we hope to replicate and disseminate our work in other parts of the world.”

Ichthion, Portoviejo River, Ecuador

“Our mission is to protect, restore, and create a safe future for the ocean’s fauna and flora using cutting edge technology. In partnership with the Circular Foundation, the Provincial Government of Manabí, and Impact Recycling, we are deploying the Azure System® to intercept plastics in the Portoviejo River. This interception system combines physical recovery, power generation systems, and gathering of essential data for decision-making and improving municipal waste management systems.

The Ichthion team in a virtual “Zoom” meeting – one of the many adaptations the Clean Currents Coalition teams have made to continue having an impact during a global crisis. (Photo: Ichthion)

“As the Portoviejo River travels through the Manabí province, inadequately managed waste finds its way to the water. This contamination not only affects the river’s ecosystem but also travels directly into the Pacific Ocean, affecting dozens of species and sensitive marine ecosystems such as the Galápagos Marine Reserve. Being a part of the Clean Currents Coalition is a great honor that is enabling us to deploy our technology to help one of the most impoverished communities in Ecuador and one of the most vulnerable ecosystems in the world. This project will also serve as a catalyst for us to continue deploying other projects in the region and into other regions with similar plastic waste conditions.”

Marea Verde, Matías Hernández River, Panama

“At Marea Verde, a Panamanian nonprofit established in 2017, we address river and coastal pollution through civic action and innovative technological solutions. We work in the Matías Hernández watershed with projects in environmental education, beach and mangrove cleanups, and a floating barrier to capture waste flowing down the river.

Marea Verde team members remove waste trapped by their floating barrier system in the Matías Hernández River, Panama City. (Photo: Marea Verde)

“As part of the Clean Currents Coalition we will work with urban communities upriver, understand their waste behavior and the incentives that could drive behavior change. We will also upgrade our capture system similar to Baltimore Bay’s Mr. Trash Wheel. A diverse and professional team has come together for this project, including Baltimore’s Clearwater Mills, Panama’s Technological University, and Wisy, an AI startup. We are excited and look forward to an enriching experience and active exchange among Coalition members during this journey.”

“The Foundation is excited to share the learnings from this comprehensive river cleanup initiative with the Clean Currents Coalition members as we work together to identify and implement new and innovative approaches to tackle the issues of marine plastics in our rivers.”

TerraCycle Global Foundation

The Ocean Cleanup, Kingston Harbour, Jamaica

“The Ocean Cleanup, the Dutch non-profit organization developing advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic, is collaborating with the Recycling Partners of Jamaica (RPJ) to deploy an Interceptor in a multi-year project at Sandy Gully in the heart of Kingston Harbour, Jamaica.

The Ocean Cleanup founder, Boyan Slat, aboard an Interceptor in Malaysia. (Photo: The Ocean Cleanup)

“While The Ocean Cleanup provides the technology, RPJ will operate the Interceptor and ensure the environmentally sound disposal of all collected plastics and materials. Key focus will also be placed on a robust communication and community education program that will encourage proper waste disposal and active recycling cultures. The highly visible location, which is vital to Jamaica’s tourism industry, will reaffirm the country’s strong commitment to protecting the environment and arm it with new capabilities to address the challenge. This project will be one of the first in The Ocean Cleanup’s mission to tackle the 1000 heaviest polluting rivers in the world.

“Being part of the Clean Currents Coalition is a great way to exchange ideas, experiences and best practices in dealing with plastic waste in rivers around the world, and will provide an excellent platform to demonstrate the importance of addressing rivers in solving the ocean plastic problem.”

Ocean Conservancy, Song Hong (Red River), Vietnam

“The Song Hong (Red River) weaves through northern Vietnam, ending in the coastal province of Nam Dinh. At the river’s mouth is a RAMSAR site–Xuan Thuy National Park–which boasts rich migratory bird habitat and mangroves that support local fisheries. Unfortunately, it’s under threat by plastic waste. A 2019 study conducted by Ocean Conservancy and partners indicates a negative relationship between the quantity of marine debris in the park and mangrove health.

The Ocean Conservancy team on the Song Hong. (Photo: Ocean Conservancy)

“To help reduce the pressure on this vital ecosystem, Ocean Conservancy has teamed up with a leading Vietnamese NGO, the Centre for Marinelife Conservation and Community Development (MCD), to install five river plastic capture devices at several waste hotspots in Nam Dinh. The team will also measure the impact of the traps with Dr. Chelsea Rochman (University of Toronto), and work with political leaders at all levels to help drive improvements in the waste management and recycling systems. Building on our International Coastal Cleanup, our team will work to engage the public in reducing ocean-bound plastic. Through the Clean Currents Coalition we’re excited to exchange lessons learned with other groups tackling similar problems.”

Renew Oceans, Assi River, India

“At Renew Oceans we believe clean oceans begin with clean rivers. We are working to reduce ocean plastic waste where it begins – in populous, river-adjacent communities.

Sorting through waste collected and removed from the Assi River, a tributary of the Ganges River in the holy city of Varanasi, India. (Photo: Renew Oceans)

“Our inaugural project Renew Ganga is located along the Assi River, a tributary of the Ganges River (Ganga in Hindi). Renew Ganga employs a 3 C approach – collection of land and river-based plastics, conversion of that plastic into fuel or recycled material, and community engagement, awareness building, and behavior change. Though behavior change and awareness doesn’t happen overnight, our team is dedicated to working alongside waste pickers, policymakers, educators, and volunteers to continually reduce river plastic waste in the Assi. We are excited to be part of the Clean Currents Coalition and join a global network of organizations working collaboratively to eliminate river plastic waste.”

“The Clean Currents Coalition is a great way to exchange ideas, experiences and best practices in dealing with plastic waste in rivers around the world, and will provide an excellent platform to demonstrate the importance of addressing rivers in solving the ocean plastic problem.“

The Ocean Cleanup

Smart Villages & Chemolex, Athi River, Kenya 

“Chemolex Company is a fast-growing social enterprise based in Nairobi, Kenya. We have partnered with Smart Villages Research Group to develop and install innovative plastic capture devices at strategic locations within River Athi and its tributaries such as River Nairobi, Ngong and Mbagathi.

Athi River, Kenya cleanup
A boom is installed in the Nairobi River to collect data on plastic waste and hydrological conditions to develop a capture device suited to the river site. (Photo: Chemolex Company)

“With this project, we hope to stop the existing marine plastic waste problem that is fed by the vast amounts of plastic waste in the upstream sections of River Athi. By installing these devices, we will also be able to obtain data and scientific information on river plastic waste. These data will be utilized in developing policy documents and undertaking comprehensive awareness campaigns in Kenya’s urban informal settlements that release up to 2,000 tons of waste on a daily basis. The outreach programs will be centered on the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle), to help enable sustainable plastic waste management in Kenya. In addition, an average of 10 tons of plastic waste collected from the various river segments will be used to produce affordable and effective construction materials such as fencing poles, tiles and pavement blocks. To maximize the social impacts of this project, we are partnering with community based organizations (CBOs) and women and youth groups in managing the plastic capture devices. These groups will be trained on how to develop sustainable enterprises within the waste management sector.”

TerraCycle Global Foundation, Lat Phrao Canal, Thailand

“The TerraCycle Global Foundation is building upon an existing partnership with its Thai-based affiliated partner, the TerraCycle Thai Foundation and local environmental NGO, the Blue Carbon Society, to implement a community-focused marine plastic capture system and communication initiative in the Lat Phrao Canal in Bangkok. This waterway traverses a densely populated, low income canal community with more than 100,000 residents and is an integral link in Bangkok’s extensive canal system connected to the Chao Phraya River, Thailand’s longest and most polluted river which empties directly into the Gulf of Thailand.  The Foundation is excited to share the learnings from this comprehensive river cleanup initiative with the Clean Currents Coalition members as we work together to identify and implement new and innovative approaches to tackle the issues of marine plastics in our rivers.”

In a Bangkok canal, waste is funneled to a collection basket where it is removed and repurposed by the TerraCycle team. (Photo: TerraCycle Global Foundation)

WILDCOAST, Tijuana River, Mexico

“With offices on both sides of the US-Mexico border, WILDCOAST and our partners are directly affected by Tijuana-generated plastics and tires that are transported by the binational Tijuana River into coastal areas that eventually enter the Pacific Ocean. In Tijuana, uncollected plastics and chronic illegal dumping in canyons and ravines along the river contribute significantly to marine pollution on both sides of the border. This pollution impacts fragile ecosystems and wildlife as well as public health. Currently, the only plastics-intercepting infrastructure is located in the US. It is imperative to build matching infrastructure in Mexico to address the problem closer to the source. We are very excited to have the support of the Clean Currents Coalition, which will allow us to remedy this issue.”

Tires and other forms of waste are removed from a creek bed during a river cleanup led by WILDCOAST. (Photo: WILDCOAST)

Hungry for more about these innovative teams and the rivers that inspire them? Check back in over the next few weeks as we let the Clean Currents Coalition teams themselves take the blogging stage to share their own stories from the riverbank.