Plastic Spotting Citizen Science Activity – Leiden, The Netherlands

Project coordinator, LIBER, joined Leiden University and their Plastic Spotter canal clean-up activity to see how citizen science is practised week-in-week-out! This was an excellent opportunity to see how a mature citizen science activity is run and sustained, producing research outputs, and fostering engaged and climate-conscious communities.

For this activity, the goal was to watch, learn, participate, and gather data for future CeOS_SE activities. The LIBER team gave a short introduction to CeOS_SE and then it was over to the Plastic Spotters.

Every Sunday a team of citizen scientists – or Plastic Spotters, as they are better known – take to the canals of Leiden every week to pick waste from the canals. Despite the name, the volunteers are out to collect as much rubbish as possible, not just plastic. On the three-hour trip around the inner-city canals, the team found bottles, cans, cups, a football, a signpost, two chairs, and a bicycle!

Back on land, the volunteers count the waste they have found while sharing a drink and snack. The count data is taken for further scientific uses by one of the organisers. What can be recycled is separated and disposed of in the appropriate manner.

Over the last few years of plastic spotting, the organisation have had some notable successes in translating its work into actual change. Many bars and restaurants in Leiden now implement plastic-free outdoor areas after a noticeable presence of single-use packages turned up in the canals. Furthermore, the work of the plastic spotters has changed reusable cup policies in the city.

During the height of the COVID pandemic, the plastic spotters’ findings helped raise attention to the environmental impact of single-use protective equipment. Read about this in National Geographic and the Guardian.

The activity was a great example of successful and engaged citizen science. We are sure this will be a great example to take forward throughout the CeOS_SE project.