Floodplain waste transformed into a plastic kayak

The tri-lateral coalition of the NGO Tisza Plastic Cup, the National Directorate General of Water Management and The Coca-Cola Foundation  - The Coca-Cola Company charitable arm – collected 80 tons of waste over two years. Thanks to the foundation’s $250,000 grant, the Zero Waste Tisza program gave much more than just short-term waste collection to the river and program participants: they started GPS-based tracking for waste mapping, built the first Kisköre River Saver Center and, using plastic as a useful secondary raw material, crafted prototypes of the unique Plastic Kayak. Based on these successes, the program has earned its next phase and another $150,000 grant.

In 2019, more driftwood and waste than ever before arrived at the Kisköre Barrage. The total area of the waste drifting upstream from the barrage was 17,000 sqm, and it was as much as 3 meters thick. The water management authority, an NGO and a business formed an alliance to manage and eliminate the problem. Ongoing defense activities, high-volume recycling of the waste collected from the river and regular, significant cleanup action, the coalition achieved its goal: removing 80 tons of waterborne waste from the river and its floodplains.

Deploying waste against waste – innovative recycling


Thanks to the cooperation with the water management authority, Plastic Cup’s first River Saver Center was built near the Kisköre Barrage. This is a community space and work area where, using the waste management and selection infrastructure, waste is carefully divided by type, and prepared for recycling. Over half of all wastes removed from the area have been recycled. The team also built Plastic Kayaks exclusively out of the secondary raw material recycled from plastic bottles removed from the Tisza River, leveraging the expertise and experience of Hungarian and international specialists. Crafting a single kayak required collecting about 300 kg of waste from the river’s floodplains, which included 20 kg raw materials, HDPE plastic, selected by volunteers. Hard-working volunteers spent hundreds of hours collecting, selecting, washing, and grinding the waste.


The added value of volunteers is beyond comprehension


Devoted Plastic Cup volunteers spent thousands of their spare time with the program cleaning the Tisza and Bodrog rivers and managing waste.

Coca-Cola Hungary also contributed to the program by engaging its employees as volunteers: the 170 staff participating in the corporate team-building exercises in Kisköre, Dinnyéshát, and Tiszaszalka removed over 7 tons of waste from the Tisza floodplains and the Tisza Lake.


How waste travels – GPS-transmitting bottles on the Tisza and Bodrog


Considering the magnitude of plastic pollution, we have very little data about how long a PET bottle travels, how long it stay in the floodplains, and whether the next flood dislodges it if it is stuck among the trees. During its history, Plastic Cup has caught many “messages in a PET bottle”, proving that they are able to travel very long distances over the river. This practice inspired the “PET Pirates” to deploy a more dependable technology to track the flood of plastic waste. The Zero Waste Tisza program made it possible to use GPS transmitters, already common for tracking migrant birds, and other novel technology solutions in their fact-finding missions.

Over the last two years, the professionals tried two different data transmission methods, so they made two prototypes. In the end they tested 7 units of the latter type, with the help of Waterscope Zrt., and continue deploying trackers. True to the sailors’ tradition, PET bottle can’t be floated without naming them and a proper ceremony, so Plastic Cup started a naming campaign in social media. The winner named the bottles after Santa’s seven reindeers. They tested the bottles on both the Bodrog and Tisza rivers and are developing them further based on their findings. Results are promising: they identified locations on the Bodrog that may become significant waste flood areas, and they also collected empirical data about the speed of uninterrupted drifting the plastic waste flood can travel.


Local and international best practices, experience


The ecological protection of the river Tisza and its tributary, as well as keeping them clean is only possible through close cooperation with neighboring countries, mutually sharing and implementing international best practices. To achieve this goal, Plastic Cup strives to support and accelerate the buildout of waste management in the Subcarpathia region, in order to stop the problem at the source. Thanks to The Coca-Cola Foundation’s grant, Plastic Cup experts were able to share their personal experiences and results at the 2019 Budapest Water Summit and at ISWA (International Solid Waste Association) in Bilbao, allowing them to build further international connections. Attending one of the world’s water industry exhibitions, Aquatech in Amsterdam, they were able to meet engineers from the world’s best-known ocean and river-cleanup initiatives, Ocean Cleanup, Waste Free Ocean and Recycled Island. This led to part of the Tisza waste, 5.5 tons of plastic being transported to Waste Free Oceans for recycling.

As part of the Zero Waste Tisza project, The Coca-Cola Foundation – the Coca-Cola Company’s global foundation – awarded a grant of $250,000 to Termé Association, the operator of the Plastic Cup. For over 30 years, The Coca-Cola Company has committed to give back 1% of its operating income to various charitable causes, including sustainability projects, around the world. In Hungary, the Foundation has made it possible to carry out the first two-year program, and thanks to Zero Waste Tisza’s impact, has awarded an additional $150,000 grant to continue the river cleanup and education program for another full year. In this next phase, the Plastic Cup professionals will execute programs that they intend to reach significant behavior change at the source of the river Tisza, to get closer to the sources of the problem.



„Packaging waste is a global problem, and we want to be part of the solution. CocaCola launched its World Without Waste program in 2018, our efforts to solve this problem are at the center of the initiative. I am proud that we have successfully achieved the main objectives of the Zero Waste Tisza program over the last two years, but we cannot stop here. We intend to direct this new 150,000 grant from our foundation into efforts that allow us to offer longer-term, impactful help towards environmental sustainability. This grant allows the team to manage the problem not only in hotspots, but at the source. In addition to financial support, we fully intend to continue supporting the further success of volunteer action by engaging our employees,”

said Sonia Dimogli, the recently appointed Country Manager, Hungary of The Coca-Cola Company.


“The Zero Waste Tisza program is not only a great example of a coalition between the business, state and NGO community, but also of the cooperation of volunteer and professional environmentalists” said Attila Lovas, Director of the Central Tisza Regional Water Management Directorate. ““Thanks to this tri-lateral cooperation and, because of our effective work, participants in the program can now give back a much cleaner river Tisza to water tourers, sport fishers and hikers, as well as the natural wilderness. This will increase the touristic value and attractiveness of the region around the riverbanks.”



As part of the Zero Waste Tisza program, Termé Association, the NGO operating the Tisza Plastic Cup program, has shot several short films that demonstrate how the Plastic Cup fights waste with waste, how they removed the waste islands upstream from the Kisköre Water Barrage, how plastic bottles become Plastic Kayaks and where the real strength of the environmental protection community lies.


For example, they made a three-part series about the crafting of the Plastic Kayak starring actor and water tour leader Attila Epres and the Plastic Cup volunteers:

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Additional short films related to the program: