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 represent a significant hazard to the stability of marine ecosystems and a danger to both wildlife and 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. The campaign hopes to raise even more 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! is open to schools and extracurricular youth groups from Europe. 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.

What is the time period of the campaign?

The campaign period in spring runs from 1 May to 30 June and in autumn from 15 September to 15 November every year.

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 through the gathering of various types of plastic waste found there. First, zones are demarcated in different sections of the banks of rivers or other water bodies. All unnatural occurrences of waste are then collected and documented from within these marked zones. The exact procedure and execution of tasks, including categorisation of the waste collected, are described in detail in the project booklet. This can be ordered from your local partner.

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?

As a European Citizen Science campaign, Plastic Pirates – Go Europe! aims to strengthen scientific cooperation in Europe, promote Citizen Science engagement and society's participation in the European Research Area, while raising awareness for a conscious and careful approach to the environment. During Germany’s EU Council Presidency in 2020, the campaign was expanded to the countries of the Trio-Presidency – Germany, Portugal, Slovenia - until 2021. Since January 2022, the campaign has been expanded to other EU member states with the support of the EU Commission.

Who can participate?

School classes and extracurricular youth groups aged 10 to 16 are invited to participate in the Europe-wide Citizen Science campaign Plastic Pirates – Go Europe! Participating as a group (school class or extracurricular youth group) is a requirement because different subgroups have to be formed when implementing the project. This is the only way to ensure that the results of the project are comparable throughout the EU and that the data can be included in the scientific evaluation. For this reason, individuals cannot unfortunately take part in Plastic Pirates – Go Europe!

Where does the project take place?

The participating teams can collect plastic waste samples from the banks of rivers, streams and flowing waters. Of course, samples can also be collected from lakes, as well as from beaches and sea coastlines. 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 in as the project booklet. Both can be ordered free of charge from your local partner. A microplastic net will also be required, which can be ordered free of charge.

Whom can I contact if I have more questions?

The implementation of the Europe-wide Citizen Science campaign Plastic Pirates – Go Europe! is coordinated by DLR Projektträger, which can be reached using this contact information. For national implementation, the local partner in your country will be available to answer questions.

How is data collected?

Data collection takes place as part of an excursion to the banks of a river. 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 measurement results on this website.  Detailed instructions can be found 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. This map can be found here. 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 campaigns take place from 1 May to 30 June and from 15 September to 15 November. Data should be uploaded until 15 July for collections in spring and until 30 November for collections in autumn.

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

The materials are aimed at young people between the ages of 10 and 16. Nevertheless, younger or older people are welcome to participate 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 national scientific research partners.

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 or chemistry. But relevant questions can, of course, also be addressed in humanities subjects. 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 or extracurricular youth groups automatically take part when they publish what their Plastic Pirates found during an excursion along the banks of flowing waters using the following 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. Small groups can also participate by working on subtasks of the project if capacities do not allow otherwise.

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, schools, clubs, associations and extracurricular youth groups assume responsibility for the participating youth in the respective European country. Any special precautions 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 scientists and researchers to compare the results over time and/or from different times of year.