Blog #36: Why clean up the Danube

September 16, 2021
Monika Weber-Fahr
The mighty river Danube, defining so much of Vienna’s history and presence, is in need of “clean up”? Really? Aren’t we in the middle of Europe, where rivers and waterways fall under strict European water regulations? Aren’t many of us here in Vienna going for occasional swims in that river - and see other people swim there regularly? What’s there to clean up?
 
Foto: A shot of plastic pollution along the river Danube, courtesy of the EU funded project “Plastic Free Danube”.
As part of our commitment to Creationtide, ChristChurch’s CreationKeepers - the group of parish members seeking to mobilize us for more environmental awareness and action - invites all of us, this Saturday, September 18th, to participate in a Danube Clean-Up organized by the Austrian Green Heroes, a local NGO (if you want to go: register directly on their website!). We are not the only ones invited:  Between September 17 and 19, millions of people around the world will join hands in contributing to the World (River) Clean-Up Day, a shared initiative by the NGOs River Clean Up and World-Clean-Up Day.
 
Locations with World River Clean Up Day activities around the globe. From: https://www.river-cleanup.org/en/world-cleanup-day
Most of us will know that our waterways and oceans are in dire need of action: Some 8 billion kilogrammes of plastic pollution ends up in the ocean every year - 80% of which arrive there courtesy of our rivers.  Initiatives like the River Clean Up Day aim at removing the plastic before it even gets to the Oceans. In fact, a Clean-Up day is a great way to bring people together, to raise awareness and to mobilize consumers to demand products and waste management approaches that will prevent us from flooding our rivers with plastic.
And where is the Danube in all of this? Yes, in terms of water quality, this mighty stream is a fairly clean river; water quality is monitored regularly, and data are made public and are accessible to everyone.  But not all elements are monitored, nor are they monitored as regularly as one may want.  Specifically downriver from Austria, plastics and other pollutants are a growing burden on the river and the plants and animals that it feeds.  Here, in Austria, some 40 tons of plastic end up in the river annually, much of it in the form of micro-plastics but also quite a bit through PET bottles, packaging materials of all sorts, and so on.  Not the largest part of the total plastic pollution that ends up in the Black Sea, true. But if you ask me: 40 tons of plastic are 40 tons too many.
  
From the EU project “plastic free danube” - the red lines show plastic accumulation in spring/summer, the blue lines show the same in the autumn/winter. https://www.viadonau.org/fileadmin/content/viadonau/06Unternehmen/Bilder/Projektdatenbank/2018/PlasticFreeDanube/Newsletter/PFD_Newsletter_2019_DE.pdf
The educational and motivational impact of participating in a river clean up is unparalleled. Having participated a few times myself - both here along the Danube and along the Potomac that flows through Washington DC - I can attest to this:  I have never looked at plastic pens, bottles and cans, but also at styrofoam, straws and cotton swabs with the same eyes as I did before.
Would it be better if the plastic were to never enter the rivers?  If less single-use plastic were produced and put in consumers hands?  Yes, of course.  And there are plenty of ways for you to tell your political representatives and the firms where you shop that they should work on changing the laws to make this happen. In the meantime: Let’s make sure we clean up the mess where we can!
Inspired? Thoughts or reactions? Or ideas for forthcoming blogs?  We look forward to hearing from you - best via email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..