Cleaning one of the most polluted rivers in Europe

February 22, 2022

This year, it’s our focus to have a solid local team to expand the collection of river-bound plastics in a structural and consistent way. This team aims to identify pollution hotspots and set up partnerships with recyclers, waste managers and governments to guarantee correct waste management flows. All activities are part of our three-tiered Ripple model to clean, educate and transform.

So, our team went to Albania to take this project to the next level! We began our journey by scouting the Ishëm River in Tirana. What we saw confirmed why we needed to be there: a riverbed riddled with plastics!

The waste problem explained

To get a better understanding of the current problems, we spoke with many different local communities. The same problem kept coming up: the lack of conclusive waste management. During one of the first days, we were able to meet with the Minister of Tourism and Environment, Mirela Kumbaro, to get an even better understanding of their current pollution problems. “The abolition of communism was accompanied by an unprecedented freedom and a new overconsumption,” she explained. “This new world and way of life was not regulated, which led to the disastrous consequences for the environment we see today.”


Fortunately, according to Ms. Kumbaro, the environment has become a priority since tourism is one of the country's biggest sources of revenue. A master plan for waste management was therefore developed, which is a very important first step!  We are grateful for the invitation and aim to keep cooperating with the Albanian government. 


During our stay we also visited AME, who recycle plastics, cardboard, and tins. The waste arrives mixed and is sorted manually on site. The plastic is recycled into plastic pellets, which are sold or transformed into simple products. However, this transformation process is often stopped because of several reasons: the machine is broken, there is not enough plastic to transform, or they lack labor forces. In short, there is a lot of plastic, there are wastebins present in the municipalities, but there is no functioning collection and sorting system and therefore no constant supply of plastic towards the waste processing sites.

The district and city of Durrës

Besides tourism, EU membership is a big motivator for clean rivers in Albania. We were therefore happy to meet with the mayor of Durrës, Emiriana Sako, and the Prefect of the district of Durrës, Roland Nasto. The city of Durrës cooperates with an Italian-based company for the research of 'flood channels' to the Ishëm River. These are temporary rivers that flood during heavy rains. This is partly a pilot project for technology.

While in Durrës, we also visited two primary schools. The children presented their ideas for a waste-free Ishëm River using a video presentation and large printed photos of local clean-ups. The energy and motivation of the children was absolutely fantastic and incredibly inspiring! They collect PET bottles at school which are picked up by a local recycling company. A clever way of educating the younger generation about how to handle our plastic waste!

Mountains and plastic

It was Prefect Roland Nasto, who joined us during our big clean-up at the mouth of the Ishëm River, together with 20 employees of the Durrës municipality. Another special guest joined, Fation Plaku, writer, mountain specialist and first Albanian to climb Everest.

A total of 115 people cleaned over 4,4 metric tons of waste, which was more than 1 km of riverbank! The beautiful mountains and the blue Adriatic Sea in the background provided a bizarre contrast to the trash on the beach.


During our last days, we worked on the preparations for our Erasmus+ project. The program was further discussed, specifically the boat trip with the research on microplastics. Overall, a marathon meeting of three hours. Tired but satisfied, we enjoyed the Albanian cuisine one last time and concluded with a short walk along the Adriatic coast in Dürres.