Every Pirate mission requires meticulous planning, and yet sometimes there are still uncertainties before beginning. Why are only groups allowed to participate and whom can I contact when I have questions? On this page you will find answers for participants, teachers and group leaders about the objectives of Plastic Pirates – Go Europe!, explaining in detail how the campaign works.

What is Plastic Pirates – Go Europe! all about?

Macro- and microplastic pollution in lakes, rivers and the ocean is a significant hazard to the stability of marine ecosystems and a danger to wildlife as well as plant diversity. However, the scientific community – around the world and in Europe – still does not have enough data to determine the actual amount of pollution. During their joint Trio-Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the governments of Germany, Portugal and Slovenia hope to raise public awareness for the scientific work involved in researching the plastic waste problem as well as for avoiding plastic waste. To this end, Plastic Pirates – Go Europe! takes place in the three countries and is open to schools and extracurricular youth groups from all member states of the European Union. Participants are invited to identify the types of plastic waste found along the banks of rivers and, thereby, to support the scientific community by sending in their results.

Is the “Plastic Pirates - Go Europe!” campaign feasible in times of corona?

Whether it is possible to carry out the sampling campaign depends primarily on the local corona regulations at the time the sample is taken. If the school is in session, the activity can usually be carried out. Sampling takes place within school boundaries and outdoors. Working in small groups (4 to 8 persons) and following the rules for maintaining distance and hygiene can keep the risk of infection low. Ultimately, it is up to the teachers and group leaders to decide whether the activity can be carried out. Feel free to contact us if we can support you in planning your activity. We can, for instance, send you several nets for sampling plastic particles in order to further reduce the size of the small groups. For more information, please see our Corona Guideline, which can be accessed here.

What is the time period of the campaign?

The campaign is currently planned to take place from 1 May to 30 June 2021. In recent months, measures to combat the impact of the coronavirus pandemic have resulted in far-reaching limitations of public life all around the world. Depending on how the pandemic progresses going forward, the actual time frame of Plastic Pirates – Go Europe! may be affected by individual measures within the member states and/or individual regions.

What is citizen science exactly?

Citizen science means that interested citizens support scientists and researchers, for example by taking their own measurements and creating their own documentation. Researchers are already working together in many different ways in order to close any potential research gaps – on a national level, as well as throughout Europe and the world. Plastic Pirates – Go Europe! is one such citizen science project, contributing to research into the spread of both micro- and macroplastic in and around European rivers.

What tasks must be completed?

At sections of riverbanks or in nature in the vicinity of bodies of water, the participating teams (school classes and extracurricular youth groups) should collect and count plastic waste and, along with reference to the location where it was found, allocate it to the different categories of micro- and macroplastic.

How is data collected?

Data is collected from the banks of a river, stream or other flowing water in Germany, Portugal or Slovenia through the gathering and categorisation of various types of plastic waste found there. First, zones are demarcated in different sections of the riverbank. All unnatural occurrences of waste are then collected and documented from within these marked zones. The exact procedure and execution of the task, including categorisation of the waste collected, are described in detail in the project booklet. Both can be ordered from the website.

What is done with the data collected?

The sample results collected are submitted – sorted according to their waste type – online and evaluated by scientists and researchers. In this way, with the help of school classes and extracurricular youth groups, the research community gains insights into plastic waste pollution in various regions throughout Europe – a research field for which a reliable database is still largely lacking.

Why is the project taking place throughout Europe this time?

Beginning with the second half of 2020, the governments of the three EU member states Germany, Portugal and Slovenia will hold the Trio-Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Strengthening citizen science and scientific excellence and developing recommended actions to avoid plastic waste in seas and rivers is one of the common goals agreed by the three countries. The fight against plastic waste in nature has to transform from a project of the governments to a challenge taken on by the citizens of Europe, including by raising awareness of young people all across Europe for the hazard that micro- and macroplastic represent for nature. Beginning with the second half of 2020, we call upon schools and extracurricular youth groups in Germany, Portugal and Slovenia to actively support scientists and researchers under the motto of Plastic Pirates – Go Europe!

Who can participate?

We call upon schools and extracurricular youth groups with young people aged 10 to 16 in the three EU member states Germany, Portugal and Slovenia to participate in the Plastic Pirates – Go Europe! citizen science campaign. Participating as a group (e.g. school class or extracurricular youth group) is a requirement because different subgroups have to be formed. This is the only way to ensure that the results of the project are comparable throughout Europe and that the data can be included in the scientific evaluation. Individuals can therefore not take part in Plastic Pirates – Go Europe!.

Where does the project take place?

Plastic waste samples can be collected on the banks of rivers, streams and other flowing waters in Germany, Portugal and Slovenia. Of course, samples can also be collected from beaches and coastlines of seas in the three countries – however, these samples will not be included in the scientific evaluation.

What is needed to participate in the project?

Depending on the weather conditions and the terrain where the plastic waste is collected, participants first need appropriate clothing and, in particular, sturdy shoes. All other information about how to handle the plastic waste collected can be found in the teaching materials and worksheets as well as the project booklet. Both can be ordered free of charge from the website.

Whom can I contact if I have more questions?

The organisational office – which can be reached using the contact information – is responsible for the organisation and coordination of the scientific supervision of the Europe-wide Plastic Pirates – Go Europe! citizen science campaign.

How is data collected?

Data collection takes place as part of an excursion to the banks of a river in Germany, Portugal or Slovenia. There, up to five small groups go on the hunt for plastic waste. The exact procedure is explained in the project booklet.

How is data transmitted?

The participants enter the results on this website. Detailed instructions explaining how to do so can be found in the project booklet.

Where can I see the results of the data collection?

The results of the data collection are presented using a digital map of Europe on the basis of Open Street Map. A summary of the results from Germany from previous years can also be found there.

Are there important deadlines that I have to meet?

The campaign takes place from 1 May 30 June 2021. Data should be uploaded until 15 July 2021.

How old do I have to be to become a Plastic Pirate?

All young people between the ages of 10 and 16 in the participating European countries are able to take part, as long as they are part of a school class or youth group.

What do we do with the waste we find?

After collecting the data and taking photos, the waste you find can be gathered and disposed of. Please note that the microplastic samples (relevant for Group C and the extra group) are not disposed of; instead, they are sent in, well sealed and along with the microplastic net, to the respective scientific research partner in the three EU member states.

Which school subjects are suitable for dealing with the topic?

The primary reference points for Plastic Pirates – Go Europe! are in STEM subjects such as biology, geography, physics and chemistry. But relevant questions can of course also be addressed in the social sciences. The campaign is designed to be used in interdisciplinary settings (for instance as part of a project or theme week).

Do I have to register to take part in the campaign?

Official registration is not necessary. School classes and extracurricular youth groups automatically take part when they publish what their Plastic Pirates found during an excursion along the banks of a river using the data upload form.

How big can groups be that participate in the campaign?

Every project group needs at least six participants and should be made up of 30 young people at most. It would be good to have a number divisible by four or five because multiple subgroups need to be formed during Plastic Pirates – Go Europe! excursions for collecting samples.

Are there special supervisory duties for the excursions?

The same rules and supervisory duties apply to the group work conducted in research areas near water as apply to other regular school field trips. By accepting the conditions of participation, the schools, clubs, associations and extracurricular youth groups assume responsibility for the participants in the respective member state of the European Union. Any special precautions which may have been imposed by local authorities as part of restrictions on public life with the aim of containing the coronavirus pandemic must be observed in all cases.

Can the same location along a river be searched during different campaign periods?

Yes, this is possible and even enables the scientists and researchers to compare the results over time and/or from different times of year.