UPSTREAM - Circular and Bio-Based Solutions for the Ultimate Prevention of Plastics in Rivers Integrated with Elimination and Monitoring Technologies

UPSTREAM addresses the targets of the Mission by overcoming challenges related to the monitoring, prevention, elimination, and valorisation of litter (L), plastics (P), and microplastics (MP). Demonstrating a suite of 14 solutions addressing pollution at every step in the water system, connected to 7 rivers in 5 countries, will enable the co-creation of an extensive database of knowledge and sustainable business models with a focus on making information as widely accessible as possible. The involvement of wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) owners, industrial partners with existing supply chains, innovative SMEs, and a water cluster association will ensure exploitation of the project solutions, while €500k in cascade funding will enhance replication across Europe. The UPSTREAM consortium will thus establish circular value chains with the potential to decrease plastic litter by 50% and MP pollution by 30%.
The advances in UPSTREAM are based on best-in-world innovations, including:
• Standardised, rapid monitoring techniques able to detect MP down to sizes >25 μm
• Bio-based, biodegradable plastics the stop the formation of MP in consumer products and WWTPs themselves
• Elimination of more than 90% MP within WWTPs from both sludge and effluent streams
• Innovative floating platforms capable of removing >83% of L, P, and MP directly from rivers at both the surface and riverbed, without creating noise pollution or harming ecosystems
• Production of relevant monomers from recovered plastics through both advanced fractionation and depolymerisation and biotransformation 
UPSTREAM represents a pan-European consortium with 5 demo sites across Europe, including 4 WWTPs (UK, ES, DE, IT), plus a testing area on the Danube in Serbia. The consortium is strengthened by top European RTOs, the world leader in sustainable bioplastics development, Novamont, and completed by partners dedicated to creating a digital knowledge sharing platform and engaging with citizens and stakeholders.

Project Budget: 7,958,026.65€

Financial Framework: HORIZON EUROPE

Start Date: 01/09/2023

End Date: 31/08/2027

These achievements will be realized through the following specific objectives (SOs):

SO1: Monitor litter, plastic, and microplastic pollution at 5 different WWTP and river sites

  • One technical guideline document for integrated surveying and monitoring of L, P and MPs is available for different stakeholder groups.
  • Launch >50 flights with aerial drones equipped with AI to monitor and map at least 10 km2 of river surface and riverbanks, before and after demonstration of P and L elimination technologies, and identify “hotspots”
  • Identify the top 5 sources of MP in WWTP and rivers to prevent up to 30% of MP released into environment
  • Establish method for fast screening of leachable plastic micropollutants.
  • Provide tiered approach including fast screening and state-of-the art analytical techniques to prove MP removal efficiency at demo sites.

SO2: Prevent the creation of MP through advanced bio-based and biodegradable materials

  • Demonstrate the potential of innovative biobased and biodegradable materials to prevent MP pollution in rivers through their substitution of conventional fossil-based plastics in >3 products responsible for releasing MPs through WWTPs (personal care and cosmetic products, textile fibres, plastic items in WWTP plants)
  • Demonstrate the feasibility to replace fossil-based plastic products by achieving similar performance and without jeopardising their optimal End of Life option (recycling, compostability, etc.)

SO3: Remove MP at WWTP so that they never enter the river system

  • Collect 98% by mass of MP from the sludge before/after the primary treatment stage at the demo site in the UK using combined cellulose/MP recovery, allowing for valorisation of the cellulose
  • Deploy innovative nature-based solutions to remove > 90% MP from the secondary and tertiary treatment stages
  • Demonstrate Advanced Oxidation Processes based on UV light and photocatalytic polymers to eliminate micropollutants from the effluents of the WWTP demo sites in Germany and Spain

SO4: Remove 65 tonnes of L and P, down to sizes of 10μm, from the Danube river and connected waterways

  • Deploy a full scale Boaxt platform able to collect 30 kg L and P per day from the river surface.
  • Integrate the floating Boaxt platform with microfluidic technology able to remove >90% of MP close to the river surface, collecting up to 200 g per day with a concentration power of 1,000,000-fold, thereby allowing for further recycling and valorisation

SO5: Valorise collected plastics and MP for different types of materials use

  • Reuse at least 90% of the plastics (P/MP) collected from the 5 UPSTREAM demo sites
  • Achieve a separation of the mixed MP/P/L waste into the desired fractions suitable for chemical recycling at an efficiency of 90%. Achieve a recycling rate of the polymer present in the plastic, either as intact polymer or monomeric building blocks at a rate of 80%.

SO6: Replicate the innovative solutions at ≥ 15 sites through stakeholder activation and knowledge creation

  • Demonstrate 3 monitoring solutions, 2 prevention solutions, 8 elimination solutions, and 2 valorisation solutions at 5 demo sites throughout Europe up to TRL 7/8
  • Design and publish a dashboard for giving live feedback on the impact of the UPSTREAM solutions