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European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency

PlasticPirates – Empowering Citizen Science to Tackle Plastic Pollution

Plastic Pirates-Feature Project
Go Europe Plastic Pirates

On 25 May, we will come together to celebrate the International Plastic Free Day, a day to reflect on the way we use it, to take action to refuse using single-use plastic and to look for safer alternatives. Plastic pollution is a global crisis, with over 380 million tons of plastic produced annually, half of which is single use - littering our communities, filling our landfills, and polluting our oceans. But together, we can make a difference.

The EU-funded project "Plastic Pirates - Go Europe!" is leading the way. This citizen science initiative empowers school classes and young people across Europe to collect data about plastic and micro-plastics on litter found on and in rivers and seas. To obtain high quality scientific data, the project has built on a proven methodology of coordinated and synchronised samplings - formulating concise research questions, providing accompanying educational material, applying uniform and standardized sampling procedures, and incorporating consistent control mechanisms during sampling in the field.

The collected data in these sampling campaigns is then entered in the database of the project and analysed by scientists and researchers. In this way, young European citizens are making an important contribution to researching the state of European rivers and the extent and pollution caused by plastic waste. The Plastic Pirates started on 1 June 2022 and are now working with schools and youth groups in 11 Member States – Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain. All these countries together organised in total 298 sampling campaigns across Europe in the autumn of 2022, involving around 5.000 young citizens.

By raising awareness and engaging young people in scientific research, Plastic Pirates is inspiring a new generation to act and make a difference.

The project was born during the German EU Presidency in 2020 and was extended to the countries of the Trio Presidency[1]. Since 2022, the expansion of Plastic Pirates has been further supported by the EU Commission so that with the objective of enlarging the samplings to more Member States. This project is supporting the achievement of the objectives of Horizon Europe’s Mission to Restore our Ocean and Waters. The initiative also contributes to other key European environmental policy objectives[2].

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For more information, please see the EU factsheet.

[1] Germany, Portugal, Slovenia. [2] Notably the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, Water Framework Directive, and the Zero Pollution Action Plan for Air, Water and Soil.



Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt German Aerospace Center (DLR)