Our story


 It started in 2017 with 10 minutes

It all started in 2017, when our founder Thomas de Groote was challenged to pick up trash for only 10 minutes! The moment you pick up someone else’s trash, something changes… you change! You start to see it and realize it’s everywhere! Becoming aware of the problem, inspired Thomas to start organizing cleanup actions. 


Became 10 000 people in 2018 

The goal was to have 10 cleanups in 3 countries along the Rhine. In reality, over 10 000 people joined cleanups in 60 cities and 5 countries. A community of River Warriors was born, cleaning the Rhine from source to ending!


 Grew to 10 rivers in 2019

River Cleanup was officially founded in 2019 and immediately became an international organization with cleanups along 10 rivers in Europe and Asia. We grew our team, initiated our first partnerships with companies, and developed our strategy to stop river waste around 3 pillars: Clean, Educate & Transform.


100 000 people took action in 2020 

By 2020, over 100 000 people took action in 45 countries!  We deployed our first river technology, a trash barrier in Indonesia, and we were amazed by the amount of people supporting our mission and taking action with us. 


Together, we reached 1 000 000 kg in 2021

In 2021 we selected Albania, Cameroon, and Indonesia as our core countries and expanded our operations & local teams. Thanks to our amazing community of River Warriors, partners, and supporters we collected our 1 000 000th kg of river waste. This milestone meant a lot for our organization.

and 3 000 000 kg in 2022 

In less than 1 year, we tripled our impact to 3 million kg, of which 2 million kg of river plastics. Our revenue grew by a factor 10 since the foundation of our nonprofit in 2019. At the end of 2022 we asked ourselves one question: "What is the most efficient and effective way to make rivers plastic-free?” We reviewed relevant scientific publications, included our own experience, learned from other impact-driven organizations, and started creating our revised Theory of Change.


100 countries in 2023    

In the meantime the River Cleanup community kept on growing and reached 100 countries! People all over the world are united by our shared mission: Together for clean rivers!


Internally, we finalized our Theory of Change: the Clean River Model, an end-to-end solution for plastic-free rivers. Through strategic and early interventions in the plastic lifecycle, we prevent new plastic pollution and permanently remove legacy waste from land and rivers. This new approach is organized around 3 integrated pillars: Empower, Prevent and Accelerate; and 2 enablers: Assessment & Impact measurement.



2024: Preparing for scale-up     

Our ambitions are set high: validate the Clean River Model along 3 rivers by 2025, scale to 100 rivers by 2030 and expand globally to 1 000 rivers by 2050. We focus on the 1 000 rivers responsible for 80% of river pollution. 


Our scaling strategy is simple yet effective: we create regional hubs in our core countries and expand to carefully selected rivers nearby based on potential impact, feasibility and local eagerness to take action. We are on a mission to clean rivers, by empowering people, preventing pollution, and accelerating change.

Get to know Thomas 

Founder and CEO, Thomas de Groote, shares his story on how a simple 10-minute cleanup is life-changing: 

In 2017, I was challenged to pick up waste for 10 minutes, 10 days in a row. Little did I know how those 10 minutes would change my life. This is my story..


When my sister challenged me to pick up litter for 10 minutes I thought: "Seriously? Why should I pick up someone else's trash?". She even upped the assignment and challenged me to make a fun video out of it. So my children and I dressed up as superheroes, cleaned our whole street and… we had so much fun! 

From that moment on, my awareness grew and the cleanups kept on coming. Once I saw the litter everywhere, I couldn't leave it. I started doing research and found out that over 8 billion kg of litter entered ocean every year. This number has only grown since then. 


A large part of that plastic ends up in the oceans through rivers. I decided to tackle the problem at the source and stop the plastic before it ever reaches the oceans.


People describe me as someone with an almost fatiguing energy level, contagious enthusiasm and the drive to succeed in anything I set my mind on. In 2018, I set my mind on making rivers plastic-free. 

At first, I was just organizing cleanups and the amount of people wanting to help out was astonishing. Thousands of people joined our actions, all coming together to take care of our planet. A real community started to form.  


The growing River Cleanup team quickly realized that we wouldn't reach our goals with cleanups alone. We started to work on education, spreading awareness, and working together with companies and governments to reduce plastic use. 


Armed with the experience of the past few years and building upon the latest scientific insights, we returned to the drawing table in 2022 with one question: How can we make rivers plastic-free in the most effective and efficient way? Our answer: the ‘Clean River Model’. It’s an integrated approach with strategic interventions along the plastics value chain: from virgin plastic use reduction to circular economy solutions, preventing new plastic pollution and cleaning up legacy pollution.


By the end of 2025, we will prove the scalability of our model along 3 rivers. We expand to 100 rivers by 2030 and roll-out to 1 000 rivers by 2050.  We know we can do it, but we must act now if we want our children and grandchildren to live happy, healthy lives. We are here to challenge the status quo, but we can’t do it alone. Reach out if you want to help us. 


Together for clean rivers!

Support our mission

The Source

We're gathering a select group of visionary and bold philanthropists to work with us to validate and scale the Clean River Model as an open-source holistic solution to make and keep rivers plastic-free. 

Donate now

With your donation, we can keep and make rivers plastic-free in Belgium, Cameroon and Indonesia. Once the Clean River Model is validated, we can scale to 1 000 plastic-free rivers by 2050. Donate and become part of positive change.

Take action with your company

Looking for a way to engage your employees in positive change? Do you want to involve your company in making our planet a healthier place? Let's join forces for plastic-free rivers!