Innovation That Matters

Sungai Watch is on a mission to clean up rivers | Photo source Make A Change World

Protecting rivers from plastic


A charity in Indonesia is installing barriers to prevent plastic from reaching the sea

Spotted: A 2021 article in Science Advances revealed that the vast majority of global ocean plastic originates in rivers. It is this rubbish that Indonesia-based Sungai Watch is attempting to tackle. The NGO was founded as a community river clean-up organisation with a mission to protect waterways. It is part of Make A Change World, a youth-led environmental organisation with a mission to clean up beaches. 

Inspired by the approach of Plastic Fischer, a German enterprise that developed the TrashBoom floating barrier system, Sungai Watch uses simple barriers to strain the rubbish out of rivers before it can reach the sea. These barriers are structured and installed to allow marine life to pass through but rubbish to be captured. This rubbish is then collected daily and weekly by volunteers, who also help wash, sort, and shred the waste and prepare it for recycling.

In addition to being prepared for recycling, the waste is also recorded and analysed. Sungai Watch believes this is important in helping to start a broader conversation around waste and what can be done to stop it. For example, as noted in their first River Plastic Report, the NGO found that, out of 450,000 kilogrammes of waste, fully 18.5 per cent, was made up of plastic bags. This could point to a need to put in place ‘bring your own bag’ campaigns.

Sungai Watch has said that it is on a mission to “place trash barriers in every river in Indonesia by 2025.” To that end, it has tested, designed, and deployed more than 100 barriers. The NGO claims to have tested different types of technologies from booms, nets, and cages to blocks and are now developing a 100 per cent recycled barrier.

The organisation’s co-founder Sam Bencheghib won the 2022 Iris Prize, which is awarded to an established project with the potential to be replicated and scaled up.

There is a growing realisation that river clean-up is just as important as ocean clean-up. In fact, at Springwise, we have covered several recent innovations focusing on rivers. These include the use of waste temple flowers to make incense, rather than just dumping the flowers in the river; and a concept for developing coral reef-like structures to help protect organisms living in rivers. 

Written By: Lisa Magloff



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