Which rivers carry the most plastic in the seas?

80% of the waste that reaches the sea comes from the hinterland, rivers in particular; they are the main transport routes.

How does all this plastic end up in the sea?

For UNEP, the plastic found in the seas is the result of poor or insufficient waste management on land, specifically due to a limited capacity to reuse and/or recycle materials.

Of course, as you probably think, the problem does not concern just one fish or one continent, but the entire planet.

Experts estimate that as many as two thirds (67%) of the entire marine pollution is due to 20 watercourses, most of which are located in Asia and represent 2.2 % of the continental area and 21 % of the world’s population.

Why are they mostly from Asian rivers?

The main reason is: the rapid increase in economic development in Asia in recent years, often not accompanied by efficient management of the waste produced, especially in less urbanised areas.

sos plastica - river cleaning

The 10 most important rivers for the transport of plastic waste into the sea are:

  • Chang Jiang (Yangtze River) with 1,469,481 tons
  • Indus with 164,332 tons
  • Huang He (Yellow River) with 124,249 tons
  • Hai He with 91,858 tons
  • Nile with 84,792 tons
  • Ganges with 72,845 tons
  • Pearl River, 52,958 tons
  • Amur, 38,267 tons
  • Niger, 35,196 tons
  • Mekong, 33,431 tons


As concerns European watercourses, not many studies have been carried out, but the existing studies show that the Danube transports between 530 and 1500 tonnes of plastic into the Black Sea every year, while 20 to 21 tonnes of plastic end up in the North Sea through the Rhine River every year.


We have seen many positive actions, but the truth is that we all need to do more.



🚀For a better World!

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