Swedish school pupils help log 19,000 items of plastic litter in nationwide citizen science project



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Plastic litter in the oceans has major consequences for humans, plants and animals, but it is a problem that starts on land. In the Plastic Experiment, school pupils are helping researchers to undertake a scientific study of the extent of plastic found in the Swedish natural environment. During two weeks in Spring, school classes collected and categorised 19,536 plastic items in places around Sweden.

Photo: Emma Grann/Håll Sverige Rent

Cigarette butts were the most common litter item found overall, but in swimming areas and natural areas, other types of plastic were more common. The collected plastic waste weighed a total of 119 kg, meaning that participants are not only contributing to important research, but also helping to remove a lot of litter from the natural environment too.

“The Plastic Experiment is our annual ForskarFredag mass experiment in which participants help researchers in a real research project. For pupils is a unique opportunity that increases both their interest and understanding of science and in return the researchers are able to collect large amounts of data from all over Sweden, which they would not otherwise be able to collect without the help of the public,” explained Martin Bergman, project manager and researcher at the non-profit association VA (Public & Science), which coordinates the project.

Plastic is a useful and important material – light, malleable and durable. But this is also what makes plastic problematic for the environment. Plastic in nature is a global environmental problem that leads to negative impacts on humans, animals and plants. Overuse of disposable plastic and packaging as well as inadequate waste management means that plastic often ends up in nature instead of being recycled. To reduce the amount of plastic litter in the natural environment, we need to understand more about where, when and why plastic ends up there.

“Plastic is everywhere, on the highest mountains as well as in the deepest oceans, and it just keeps increasing. Reducing plastic waste is a crucial issue for the future. But in order to know which initiatives provide the most benefit, more knowledge is needed. Therefore, it is fantastic to be part of one of the largest studies ever undertaken,” said Johanna Ragnartz, CEO of the Keep Sweden Tidy Foundation.

“I want to move away from the perception that it is the individual that drops the litter who is the problem. The problem is systematic and exists at all levels of society. The Plastic Experiment will give us new knowledge about the reasons why plastic ends up in nature; what are the weaknesses in the chain. With better knowledge about the problem, we can also find better solutions,” said Professor Bethanie Carney Almroth who is a researcher in Ecotoxicology and Zoophysiology at the University of Gothenburg and the scientific lead on the Plastic Experiment.

During the autumn, a report will be published with the compiled results, but all reported plastic can be also viewed on a map.

An opportunity to participate again this autumn!

The Plastic Experiment will be run again during the month of September in association with the national science festival ForskarFredag 2022, part of European Researchers’ Night, which is coordinated by VA (Public & Science). 

Registration for the second collection period is already open on plastexperimentet.se. In addition to schools, organisations and individuals are also invited to participate. 

The Plastic Experiment is a collaboration between the University of Gothenburg, the non-profit organisation VA (Public & Science), the science festival ForskarFredag and the Keep Sweden Tidy Foundation. The Plastic Experiment is funded by the research council Formas and partly by the EU’s research and innovation programme Horizon Europe (GA No:101061464) as part of European Researchers’ Night.

Contact: Martin Bergman, Project Manager at VA (Public & Science)

Public & Science Sweden

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Vetenskap & Allmänhet

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