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Plastic Spotter: spot plastic in the canals of Leiden

Help us spot and clean up the plastic in the canals of Leiden! Leiden University is calling on the good folk of Leiden to help our researchers study the plastic in the city’s canals. And if you’d like our canals to be plastic-free, why not donate towards a fleet of canoes to clean them up?

Official launch at Leiden market

Yvonne van Delft, alderman at the Municipality of Leiden, and Martijn Ridderbos, Vice-Chairman of the Executive Board of Leiden University, fished a long string of plastic out of the Nieuwe Rijn canal in the centre of Leiden on 27 November. This was to celebrate the launch of Plastic Spotter, a project in which the citizens of Leiden are working with researchers to gain a clear picture of how much plastic waste is floating in the canals of Leiden. The many cups, bottles, crisp packets and bags that Van Delft and Ridderbos pulled out of the water together with shoppers, market traders, students and employees of the Municipality of Leiden and Leiden University made the plastic problem all too visible.

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Plastic soup begins in canals

Because the canals of Leiden are full of plastic. The plastic soup that has taken over our seas also starts here in Leiden. Plastic that ends up in the canals of Leiden – Leiden has 28km of canals – finds its way to the sea.

Become a plastic spotter

How much plastic is floating in the canals and waters of Leiden and where exactly? Citizens and researchers can now study this together. The free CrowdWater app makes it quick and easy to record how much plastic there is in the water in your part of town. Just take a photo and say how much plastic you can see or, conversely, that you can’t see any at all. We will use all the data that is collected for research into how plastic is transported through our waterways. Download the app from www.plasticspotter.nl.

Canoes to fish plastic out of the canals

We aren’t just going to sit back and watch the plastic as it flows to the sea. We also want to clean up the mess, but to do so, we need canoes. Volunteers can then take to the Leiden canals and clean them up. Support the clean-up campaign with a donation at www.steunleiden.nl.  Together we can make our canals plastic-free!

Spot and support

Auke-Florian Hiemstra, who conducts research into plastics in coots’ nests at the Institute of Environmental Sciences, is one of the coordinators of the project. He calls on everyone to join in and contribute: ‘We keep finding out more about the effects of plastic on nature, and tackling the problem at the source will save a lot of heartache further on down the chain. How much plastic is floating here in Leiden? Where does it come from? And how does it find its way to the sea? As Plastic Spotters, we and the citizens of Leiden are going to be first to gain a clear picture of this. But it doesn’t stop there: before it reaches the sea, we want to fish as much plastic as possible out of the canals. Your donation will help us launch our fleet of canoes!’

Yvonne van Delft, alderman at the Municipality of Leiden, and Martijn Ridderbos, Vice-Chairman of the Executive Board of Leiden University, fished a long string of plastic out of the Nieuwe Rijn canal, to launch the Plastic Spotter project. Eelkje Colmjon
Yvonne van Delft, alderman at the Municipality of Leiden, and Martijn Ridderbos, Vice-Chairman of the Executive Board of Leiden University, fished a long string of plastic out of the Nieuwe Rijn canal, to launch the Plastic Spotter project. Eelkje Colmjon

Research with citizens of Leiden

Leiden University celebrated its 444th anniversary this year, and one way in which we are celebrating this is with new citizen science projects. Citizen science is research that academics and the public carry out together in order to gain new knowledge. The Plastic Spotter campaign is the result of a call for research questions in March this year. It soon became clear that plastic is a hot topic with the residents of Leiden, which is how the researchers came up with the Plastic Spotter project. The app is not just for use in Leiden: people throughout the country can use it to spot plastic in the water.

More photos of the launch

Photos: Eelkje Colmjon
Videos: Sean van der Steen
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