Drones help reduce plastic pollution in rivers


A large part of the garbage in the ocean comes through the rivers.

To emphasize this topic, ten of the world’s largest rivers collectively contribute up to 95% of the plastic found in the ocean.

Scientists directly from the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) have worked on an extensive global survey of plastic pollution at sites around the world to better understand the problem so they can work to find more effective solutions.

Five of these research sites are located along the Mekong River in Southeast Asia and along the Ganges River in India.

Although these rivers are still very far from Australia, the researchers have clearly been able to verify that a plastic bottle thrown into the Mekong or some other large river has a good chance of reaching the coasts of Australia or other countries, such as the states US.


Before they can make large-scale efforts to avoid and clean up plastic pollution, researchers first want to identify the main points of origin of the pollution.

To accomplish this, researchers usually conduct a manual investigation of plastic pollution along a river like the Mekong River, working from the ground to collect data to better understand where the pollution comes from and where it is concentrated.

Given the immense size of the Mekong, it flows for about 2,500 miles through six countries, starting from China and ending in Vietnam, where it flows into the South China Sea, this type of enterprise is enormous, and would generally require thousands of hours of research.

But using DJI Phantom 4, the researchers were able to significantly speed up the data collection process along the Mekong River by processing the photos taken by the drone, which will be used to identify the central points of plastic pollution.

Here’s how it works:

Researchers use drones to capture large amounts of visual data along the Mekong River (or any river where this type of investigation is conducted).

These images are processed using special software to identify the individual pieces of plastic inside them.

Each of these individual plastic pieces is geo-tagged with a specific location.

The researchers then insert the geo-tagged position of each piece of plastic photographed into a specific database.

Machine learning algorithms process this data, producing the location of central and strategic points of plastic pollution along the river.

By ensuring that researchers process and collect huge amounts of data, the drones and related software saves researchers huge amounts of time, thus revolutionizing data processing for this type of environmental problems due to pollution.

The researchers estimate that using drones to collect visual data will reduce the time required to complete environmental research and produce hot spot maps by up to 90%, completing the job in one year instead of many more.

“If we were trying to evaluate the sites or sources of plastic pollution leaks that we are examining today with traditional methods, we could conduct surveys that could take five to ten years. With the technology we have now, we are able to get that information. within a year or less. “

Adam Hodge, head of regional information, a United Nations environment program

The algorithm on which CSIRO researchers are working, uses open source data, including population density and river flows, to help both identify strategic points and understand where and why plastic enters the river in certain places.

After finding these strategic and central points, the researchers will start working to create localized solutions which, once implemented, will present models capable of reducing the prevention and cleaning efforts in other rivers and localities. The ultimate goal is to help reduce the amount of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans faster.


The creation of maps of strategic points for plastic pollution is just one example of drone technology that makes a big difference especially in the time needed to complete a job.

Here are some other ways that drones are helping to make mapping more productive in various sectors and uses:

Reconstruction of accidents.

Drones are helping law enforcement to significantly speed up the creation of 3D and orthomosaic maps for incident reconstruction, reducing a process from two to three hours to just 5-8 minutes.

Industrial inspections.

Whether inspectors fly inside a boiler to monitor corrosion or fly outside to inspect a tower with cell phone antennas, drones are helping to make the process much faster.

In the case of internal inspections, drones help speed things up by allowing the rapid collection of visual data and also by ensuring that inspectors do not have to waste time building scaffolding to support their inspections, in some cases reducing the time needed for visual data collection from three to four days to a few hours.


Due to their large size and the danger presented by being close to them when active, volcanoes are very difficult to map.

Drones are helping researchers speed up the process of creating 3D maps of volcanoes, in some cases gathering new information that has led to discoveries that would have been impossible without aerial data.

Humanitarian research.

Drones are helping humanitarian organizations to significantly speed up their war crime investigations by using drones to quickly collect visual data for the creation of maps.

In some cases, it would have been impossible given the insidious nature of the landscape.

Other applications are also possible besides those listed here, which makes the use of DJI Enterprise drones a sector in full development.