River Cleanup collects 1 million kg of river plastic

February 10, 2022

An important milestone celebrated in the presence of Minister Zuhal Demir


Antwerp, February 11, 2022 – Yesterday,  the Belgian NGO, River Cleanup has collected the very last symbolic kilo of the 1 million kg of plastic at the new circular Blue Gate site in Antwerp. The organisation celebrated this historic milestone during the hybrid River Cleanup Impact Event, together with Minister Zuhal Demir. In the presence of partners, the organisation reflected on past achievements and presented its ambitious goals for 2025.


Recent research shows that 11 billion kg of plastic reaches our oceans every year and this amount is only expected to increase sharply in the future. River Cleanup has a clear mission: to prevent plastic from ending up in our rivers and oceans, because plastic is not degradable.  

Celebrating creating impact together

Yesterday was one for the books: River Cleanup has reached a historic milestone by intercepting 1 million kg of plastic along and in rivers. The environmental impact of plastic is a global issue due to its serious consequences for our ecosystems and our health. A success, but according to Thomas de Groote, founder of River Cleanup, it is just the tip of the iceberg:


“We are extremely proud to have collected the very last kilogram of river plastic to reach our 1 million milestone, but this is just the start of our ambitious plan.The goal is to prevent 100 million kilograms of plastic from reaching our oceans by 2025. We do this by organising global clean-ups along rivers, raising awareness and transforming organisations. The only way to achieve this goal is to take action together.”


The purpose of the Impact Event was to reflect on the achievements of the past five years. During the hybrid event, River Cleanup outlined the results achieved since its very first campaign in 2017, and informed the attendees about the current approach and plans for the future. River Cleanup wants to focus mainly on scaling up manual and technological waste collection, education through schools and rationalising plastic use together with companies.  “This behavioural change in consumers and manufacturers to avoid single-use plastic is crucial to achieve a sustainable solution,” says Thomas de Groote.

Several members of River Cleanup's global community spoke at the event. As a special guest, Flemish Minister for Environment, Zuhal Demir collected the last symbolic kilo.


"1 million kilograms of waste weighs almost as heavy as the entire MAS in Antwerp. It is an enormous amount, but at the same time enormously regrettable. Apparently, it seems to be too difficult for countless of asocial litterers in Flanders to pick up their rubbish or to throw it in the nearest trash can. And don’t forget about all the environmental consequences that this entails. At a time like this, you are glad that as a policymaker you are able to join forces with the people of River Cleanup. They make a huge difference with their campaigns and there is no better way to support them than by rolling up your own sleeves and pitch in," says Flemish Minister for the Environment Zuhal Demir.


Policy vs deposit


"I also want to contribute to the issue of littering in terms of policy, because it concerns more than just plastic. In addition to various policy initiatives we have already taken, I will be evaluating the packaging plan previously agreed with the sector by the end of this year. Based on those numbers, I will speak to government as stated in the coalition agreement. An alternative approach, such as deposits, must then be considered. We are currently researching various systems, including systems that have already been introduced in other European countries, as well as their effects. It is an ongoing exercise," says Flemish Minister for the Environment Zuhal Demir.


A historic photo opportunity



To achieve their goals by 2025, River Cleanup will continue to focus on the Ripple Model with its 3 important pillars: clean, educate and transform. During the event, the NGO has announced that the Ripple Model will be further rolled out in additional countries.


River Cleanup focuses on continuously collecting trash in and along rivers with the help of people and technology. With major global clean-ups, people are made locally aware of the global problem and thus become part of the solution (e.g. River Sundays and World Cleanup Day).


Raising awareness among students and youth by focusing on the impact of our plastic consumption on people and nature. During the workshops, among other things, they actively think about the use of alternatives and how they can get started with them.


By teaming up with companies, River Cleanup has a greater impact on plastic avoidance/substitution and makes it easier for organisations to involve consumers and employees. River Cleanup develops a network of organisations, scientists, researchers, companies and policymakers with the aim of achieving sustainable change.

Ambitious goals aren't achieved on your own


River Cleanup has proven that its approach is successful, but realises that there are still important challenges ahead. Especially if they want to reach the goal of a 100 million. That is why the NGO teamed up with Deloitte. Finding additional financing, scaling up the organisation, further developing technology and finding new partnerships were identified as crucial success factors.

The entire hybrid, interactive event was made possible by the event agency The Event Pilots.