The problem of litter (L), plastics (P), and microplastics (MP) in the European river systems needs to be addressed at several points in the water supply systems – before wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs), after WWTPs, and in the rivers themselves. The overall objective of UPSTREAM is thus to address pollution at every point in the path of L, P, and MP, from creation until ending up in the seas, while engaging stakeholders at all levels – industry, government, and citizens. Coupling the technical demonstrations with analysis of circular (bio-based) value chains, environmental and economic sustainability assessments, and focused efforts on knowledge co-creation and replication will accelerate the reduction of pollution in European rivers. 

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

  • 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”
  • Detect MP each of different stages (primary, secondary, and tertiary) of WWTPs down to a size of < 25 μm with cost-effective, rapid, and standardized protocols
  • 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.


  • 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.)


  • 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
  • Demonstrate the viability of membrane processes for the recovery of MPs that escape WWTPs retaining up to 98% of MPs (overall discharge reduction of MPs in rivers up to 75%) at WWTP demo site in Spain.
  • 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


  • 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
  • Optimise and demonstrate a full scale ThinkOcean platform able to collect up to 93% of P and L from the river surface and riverbed, with a capacity to move 100,000 L water and remove up to 500 kg P and L per day, down to sizes of 1 mm, while being powered with renewable solar energy.


  • 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%.


  • 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
  • Determine the scalability and replicability potential of the solutions using industrial symbiosis value chain digitalisation for each of the demonstrated solutions.
  • Co-create at ≥10 strategies and plans for Circular Sustainable Business Models that connect various sectors (plastics, utilities, recycling), supported by comprehensive LCA and S-LCA results
  • Design and publish a dashboard for giving live feedback on the impact of the UPSTREAM solutions
  • Deploy €500k in cascading funding to support 5 associated regions in the successful replication of the solutions and development of business plans
  • Establish 3 ‘UPSTREAM Co-Labs’ living labs to empower local citizen science initiatives involving total of 2000 individuals.
  • Share knowledge through broad communication and dissemination, through connecting with to >15 ambassadors, >20 local opinion makers with at least 10 in associated regions, >25 initiatives/projects and co-planning or participating in >10 clustering events/workshops (50-80 participants per event).