Skip to main content

‘Down to the river’: amount, composition, and economic sector of litter entering the marine compartment, through the Tiber river in the Western Mediterranean Sea


Land-based activities are, undoubtedly, the main source of marine litter, particularly in a highly populated closed sea basin, such as the Mediterranean Sea. Rivers, consequently, act as a pathway of mismanaged waste to the sea. While quantification of inputs is a difficult task, the assessment of abundance, composition trends and baselines, and the identification of sources and main sectors producing marine litter are of crucial importance to support the ability of policy makers to improve waste reduction measures. For this reason, the Joint Research Centre (JRC/RIMMEL) coordinated a network of several research bodies that monitored floating litter (> 2.5 cm) from fixed observation points located on rivers near the sea using the same systematic research protocol. In Italy, one of the surveyed rivers was the Tiber, the third longest river on the peninsula, which after running through the city of Rome divides into two branches before flowing into the Tyrrhenian Sea. Results of 1 year of monitoring, September 2016–August 2017, highlight that 82% of the floating items were plastic and belong to the food and cosmetic sector, and it was estimated that 85.4% (± 9.4) of litter items get into the sea each hour from the Tiber river canal in Fiumicino, of which approximately 30% were already fragmented.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5


  • Acha EM, Mianzan HW, Iribarne O, Gagliardini DA, Lasta C, Daleo P (2003) The role of the Rıo de la Plata bottom salinity front in accumulating debris. Mar Poll Bull 46(2):197–202

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Araújo CM, Costa M (2007) An analysis of the riverine contribution to the solid wastes contamination of an isolated beach at the Brazilian Northeast. Manag Environ Qual Int J 18(1):6–12

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Arcangeli A, Campana I, Angeletti D, Atzori F, Azzolin M, Carosso L, Di Miccoli V, Giacoletti A, Gregorietti M, Luperini C, Paraboschi M, Pellegrino G, Ramazio M, Sarà G, Crosti R (2018) Amount, composition, and spatial distribution of floating macro litter along fixed trans-border transects in the Mediterranean basin. Mar Pollut Bull 129(2):545–554

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Braccia V, Filippi C (2018) Survey on macro-waste and the micro and mesoplastics (beach litter) along lazio coast (Italy). In: Proceedings of the conference marine litter: da Emergenza Ambientale a Potenziale Risorsa. Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rome, 1st of December 2017 (in press)

  • Bruge A, Barreau C, Carlot J, Collin H, Moreno C, Maison P (2018) Monitoring litter inputs from the Adour river (Southwest France) to the marine environment. J Mar Sci Eng 6(1):24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Campana I, Angeletti D, Crosti R, Di Miccoli V, Arcangeli A (2018) Seasonal patterns of floating macro-litter across the Western Mediterranean Sea: a potential threat for cetacean species. Rendiconti Lincei Scienze Fisiche e Naturali 29(2):453–467.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Carson HS, Lamson MR, Nakashima D, Toloumu D, Hafner J, Maximenko N, McDermid KJ (2013) Tracking the sources and sinks of local marine debris in Hawaii. Mar Environ Res 84:76–83

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Caulton E, Mocogni M (1987) Preliminary studies of man-made litter in the firth of forth, Scotland. Mar Pollut Bull 18(8):446–450

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Derraik JG (2002) The pollution of the marine environment by plastic debris: a review. Mar Pollut Bull 44(9):842–852

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • do Sul JAI, Costa MF, Silva-Cavalcanti JS, Araújo MCB (2014) Plastic debris retention and exportation by a mangrove forest patch. Mar Pollut Bull 78(1–2):252–257

    Google Scholar 

  • Earll RC, Williams AT, Simmons SL, Tudor DT (2000) Aquatic litter, management and prevention—the role of measurement. J Coast Conserv 6(1):67–78

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Environment UN (2017) Marine litter socio economic study. United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi

    Google Scholar 

  • G20 (2017) meeting, Hamburg 2017: = publicationFile&v = 3. Accessed 01 Jun 2018

  • Galgani et al (2013) European Commission Joint Research Centre, 2013. MSFD technical subgroup on marine litter (TSG-ML). Guidance on monitoring of marine litter in European Seas. EUR 26113 EN—Joint Research Centre, Luxembourg, p 128

    Google Scholar 

  • Galgani F, Leaute JP, Moguedet P, Souplet A, Verin Y, Carpentier A, Mahe JC (2000) Litter on the sea floor along European coasts. Mar Pollut Bull 40(6):516–527

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • González-Fernández D, Hanke G, and the network RiLON (2018) Floating macro litter in european rivers—top items. Review and synthesis of data collected by the JRC exploratory project RIMMEL. JRC technical report. JRC108172

  • González-Fernández D, Hanke G (2017) Toward a harmonized approach for monitoring of riverine floating macro litter inputs to the marine environment. Front Mar Sci.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • González-Fernández D, Hanke G, Tweehuysen G, Bellert B, Holzhauer M, Palatinus A, Hohenblum P, Oosterbaan L (2016) Riverine litter monitoring—options and recommendations. MSFD GES TG marine litter thematic report; JRC technical report; EUR 28307.

  • Jambeck JR, Geyer R, Wilcox C, Siegler TR, Perryman M, Andrady A, Law KL (2015) Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science 347(6223):768–771

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • JRC RIMMEL (2016)

  • Krelling AP, Souza MM, Williams AT, Turra A (2017) Transboundary movement of marine litter in an estuarine gradient: evaluating sources and sinks using hydrodynamic modelling and ground truthing estimates. Mar Pollut Bull 119(1):48–63

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lebreton et al (2017b) Interactive map Accessed 01 Jun 2018

  • Lebreton LC, Van der Zwet J, Damsteeg JW, Slat B, Andrady A, Reisser J (2017) River plastic emissions to the world’s oceans. Nat Commun 8:15611

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lechner A, Keckeis H, Lumesberger-Loisl F, Zens B, Krusch R, Tritthart M, Schludermann E (2014) The Danube so colourful: a potpourri of plastic litter outnumbers fish larvae in Europe’s second largest river. Environ Pollut 188:177–181

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Legambiente (2018) Beach litter, Indagine sui rifiuti nelle spiagge Italiane-2018. In: Serena Carpentieri S, Di Vito S, Zampetti G, Scocchera E, Nuglio S, Cugnata F (eds), Rome, Italy, p 15

  • Mikhailova MV, Bellotti P, Valeri P, Tortora P (1999) Intrusion of seawater into the River Part of the Tiber Mouth. Water Resour 26(6):679–686

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Moore CJ (2008) Synthetic polymers in the marine environment: a rapidly increasing, long-term threat. Environ Res 108(2):131–139

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Morritt D, Stefanoudis PV, Pearce D, Crimmen OA, Clark PF (2014) Plastic in the Thames: a river runs through it. Mar Pollut Bull 78(1):196–200

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Poeta G, Battisti C, Bazzichetto M, Acosta AT (2016) The cotton buds beach: marine litter assessment along the Tyrrhenian coast of central Italy following the marine strategy framework directive criteria. Mar Pollut Bull 113(1–2):266–270

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rech S, Macaya-Caquilpán V, Pantoja JF, Rivadeneira MM, Madariaga DJ, Thiel M (2014) Rivers as a source of marine litter—a study from the SE pacific. Mar Pollut Bull 82(1–2):66–75

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rech S, Macaya-Caquilpán V, Pantoja JF, Rivadeneira MM, Campodónico CK, Thiel M (2015) Sampling of riverine litter with citizen scientists—findings and recommendations. Environ Monit Assess 187(6):335

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schmidt C, Krauth T, Wagner S (2017) Export of plastic debris by rivers into the sea. Environ Sci Technol 51(21):12246–12253

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schultz PW, Bator RJ, Large LB, Bruni CM, Tabanico JJ (2013) Littering in context: personal and environmental predictors of littering behavior. Environ Behav 45(1):35–59

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Suaria G, Aliani S (2014) Floating debris in the Mediterranean Sea. Mar Poll Bull 86(1–2):494–504

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • UNEP (2016) Marine plastic debris and microplastics—global lessons and research to inspire action and guide policy change. United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi

    Google Scholar 

  • UNEP/MAP (2015) Marine litter assessment in the Mediterranean 2015. ISBN No: 978-92-807-35642

  • Vlachogianni T, Anastasopoulou A, Fortibuoni T, Ronchi F, Zeri C (2017) Marine litter assessment in the Adriatic and ionian seas. IPA-Adriatic DeFishGear Project, MIO-ECSDE, HCMR and ISPRA, p 168 (ISBN: 978-960-6793-25-7)

  • Werner S, Budziak A, van Franeker J, Galgani F, Hanke G, Maes T, Matiddi M, Nilsson P, Oosterbaan L, Priestland E, Thompson R, Veiga J, Vlachogianni Th (2016) Harm caused by marine litter. MSFD GES TG marine litter—thematic report; JRC technical report; EUR 28317 EN.

  • Williams AT, Simmons SL (1996) The degradation of plastic litter in rivers: implications for beaches. J Coast Conserv 2(1):63–72

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zeri C, Adamopoulou A, Varezić DB, Fortibuoni T, Viršek MK, Kržan A, Prvan M (2018) Floating plastics in Adriatic waters (Mediterranean Sea): from the macro-to the micro-scale. Mar Poll Bull 136:341–350

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We wish to acknowledge Alessandra Paoletti, who took some of the monitoring sessions and all the feedback we had through the Rimmel Network. Georg Hanke with is experience and his knowledge was the mentor for the research. The study was also undertaken within the MedSeaLitter an Interreg Med project, which aims to develop a systematic protocol to monitor marine litter to protect biodiversity. Pietro Bianco draw Fig. 1.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Roberto Crosti.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Crosti, R., Arcangeli, A., Campana, I. et al. ‘Down to the river’: amount, composition, and economic sector of litter entering the marine compartment, through the Tiber river in the Western Mediterranean Sea. Rend. Fis. Acc. Lincei 29, 859–866 (2018).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Marine litter
  • Mediterranean Sea
  • Monitoring protocol
  • Riverine litter
  • Tiber river