Original article by Julio López-Doval published at Plastic0pyr blog

  • Plastic waste is present in the rivers of the Pyrenees and has been detected in fish.
  • On September 28 and 29, in Ordino, Andorra, the Plastic0Pyr project conference was celebrated.
  • On September 29, a citizen science workshop was carried out on the Tristaina river, to encourage secondary school teachers in Andorra to participate in the project.
  • Researchers from different research centers, companies and entities of the third sector have presented the results of their research and their activities.

On Tuesday, September 28th, we celebrated a congress at the Centre de Congressos d’Ordino, Andorra and it was inaugurated by Mrs. Sílvia Calvo Armengol, Minister of the Environment of the Government of Andorra, who emphasized the need for environmental preservation, to keep mountain ecosystems free of pollutants and waste, and preventing the rivers of Andorra from becoming transport routes for plastic waste downstream.

Multidisciplinary meeting

At the congress, the members of the Plastic0Pyr consortium of the Universities of Barcelona (UB), Girona (UdG), the Université Clermont Auverge, Centre d’Estudis Avançats de Blanes (CSIC-CEAB), the CNRS-Ecolab and representatives of the companies Anthesis Lavola, Cicloplast and ERCROS S.A. presented the results of our research, analyzed the life cycle of plastics and discussed strategies to efficiently manage plastic waste, to avoid its abandonment in the natural environment and to encourage citizen participation in its management.

Dr. Gaël Leroux from CNRS-Ecolab summarized what we know so far about the presence and effects of plastic waste in different ecosystems on the planet, highlighting its ubiquity, even in remote areas where human activity and access is still limited.

Mountain leisure activities as sources of contamination in Pyrenean rivers

Mountain leisure activities are sources of plastic waste in terrestrial and aquatic systems. Colleagues from the UB analyzed the life cycle of different types of plastic materials used in mountain activities.

Researchers from the CSIC-CEAB and the UdG showed preliminary results on the quantification and characterization of plastic waste in the Pyrenean river basins of Catalonia and Andorra. Fragments from larger plastics (e.g. plastic bags), which may be related to tourist activity, were the wastes detected in the greatest quantity. Some of the plastics found are due to past human activity, since the river acts as a sink and its hydrodynamics remobilizes the old plastics accumulated in different parts of the river habitat and on the riverbank. On the other hand, the degree of urbanization of the basin and tourist activities were linked to the content of microplastics in the stomach of trouts from three different locations in Andorra.

The researchers from the CSIC-CEAB, UdG, UB, the Université Clermont Auverge and the company ERCROS S.A. presented the results on in situ degradation studies of plastic waste and its chemical characteristics. Plastics and bioplastics were less colonized by microorganisms and decompose more slowly in aquatic environments than natural substrates such as leaves or wood. Furthermore, the communities of microorganisms that develop in natural substrates were different from those that do in plastics and bioplastics. For example, photosynthetic organisms had more affinity for the latter.

Citizen participation, keystone

On the Plastic0Pyr switch citizen science project, representatives of the CSIC-CEAB, Anthesis-Lavola and the UB offered a talk about it and organized a participatory session on the 29th in the Tristaina river, in Arcalís, where teachers from schools of Andorra sampled a stretch of the river to detect, quantify and classify plastic waste in the aquatic and terrestrial environment.

Finally, to close the activities on the 28th at the Centre de Congressos d’Ordino, members of Anthesis-Lavola and Cicloplast offered a conference on circular economy, business opportunities linked to better waste management and its reuse and revaluation. Along these lines, a workshop was also organized where representatives of the academic community, entrepreneurs from the tourism sector and managers of natural parks discussed practical cases where to apply solutions to the management of plastic waste in mountain ecosystems based on the circular economy.

The conference and the activities related to the congress had a great participation of the public. More than 50 participants, members of research centers such as the Instituto Pirenaico de Ecología-CSIC or the Institut Català de Recerca de l’Aigua, public administration such as the Agència Catalana de l’Aigua or the Agència Catalana de Residus, the management from natural parks such as the parc Natural de l’Alt Pirineu or representatives of the tourism sector and mountain leisure attended the day.