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Citizen science Plastic and cigarettes make up bulk of Swiss beach litter

Man cleaning up litter by the lake

Volunteers examined 95,971 pieces of litter collected on the shores of Swiss rivers and lakes.


According to a nationwide study focused on litter, plastic is the most common waste material found in Swiss rivers and lakes, with non-biodegradable cigarette butts coming in second.

Between April 2017 and March 2018, some 1,052 measurements were made at 112 locations for the first instalment of the Swiss Litter Reportexternal link. The effort was led by STOPPP (Stop Plastic Pollution CH), an environmentalist group focused on plastic waste reduction.

The study, published on Thursday, found that 65.4% of litter items on Swiss shores were made of plastic. Non-biodegradable cigarette butts came in second at 34.1%.

Litter items larger than 2.5 centimetres (1 inch) were classified into 89 waste categories and broken down into nine material types. Common items include plastic fragments, Styrofoam, glass, paper, sweet wrappers, metal bottle caps, aluminium lids, pull tabs and plastic sheets. 

Small litter made up the majority of items found, suggesting that municipal cleaning teams did not have the capacity to clear them.

Citizen science approach

The study, which took a “citizen science” approach to data collection, is the first of its kind in Switzerland. More than 150 trained volunteers participated. In total, they examined 95,971 pieces of litter collected on the shores of Swiss rivers and lakes.

+ Learn more about citizen science in Switzerland

The methodology followed international recommendations of the European Environment Agency, the OSPAR Commissionexternal link and UN Environment Programme, which were adapted to the conditions of rivers and lakes.

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