Bence Pardy used to clear tables for a living. Now he picks up plastic waste from his local river.

Pardy quit his job as a waiter in Budapest to wage a battle against the trash polluting the river where he spent much of his childhood.

The Tisza is Hungary’s second largest river, flowing from Ukraine, through Hungary, joining the Danube in Serbia and then moving eastwards to the Black Sea. In three months, Pardy has filled 466 huge trash bags full of discarded plastic from the part of the river that flows near the small town of Tiszafured.

Working from a small motorboat, he collects waste by hand. There is so much of it that in many places there are floating islands made up of plastic bottles, overgrown with vegetation.

Over the summer, Pardy also joined a larger-scale clean-up mission, working with other volunteers to remove 11 tonnes of waste from the Tisza. The volunteers found everything from refrigerators to car parts, as well as hazardous items like needles.

Bence Pardy, 32-year-old, carries plastic bags full of waste in Tiszafured, Hungary, October 1, 2019. Picture taken October 1, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo - RC1EE00F8A40
Image: REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

“I was so shocked by this that I could not continue doing and enjoying my job - and now here I am,” he told Reuters.

“My sad experience is that I see anglers or the people who come for holidays and they just walk past the rubbish, and even when it is at arm’s length, they don’t pick it from the river. I am astonished to see such negligence.”


What is the World Economic Forum doing about plastic pollution?

More than 90% of plastic is never recycled, and a whopping 8 million metric tons of plastic waste are dumped into the oceans annually. At this rate, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050.

The Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) is a collaboration between businesses, international donors, national and local governments, community groups and world-class experts seeking meaningful actions to beat plastic pollution.

In Ghana, for example, GPAP is working with technology giant SAP to create a group of more than 2,000 waste pickers and measuring the quantities and types of plastic that they collect. This data is then analysed alongside the prices that are paid throughout the value chain by buyers in Ghana and internationally.

It aims to show how businesses, communities and governments can redesign the global “take-make-dispose” economy as a circular one in which products and materials are redesigned, recovered and reused to reduce environmental impacts.

Read more in our impact story.

Bence Pardy, 32-year-old, takes plastic bags full of waste in Tiszafured, Hungary, October 1, 2019. Picture taken October 1, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo - RC1146297110
Image: REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

Community clean-up

Volunteer-led operations are growing in popularity as people look to tackle the impact our discarded waste is having on the environment.

In the UK this year, for example, there have been organized litter-picking days across the country, where people are encouraged and sometimes rewarded for picking up trash. In the US, The Great American Cleanup brings together more than 3 million volunteers to help collect litter and clean public spaces across the country.

The Global Plastic Action Partnership, meanwhile, brings together decision-makers from across sectors to try to fast-track the transition to a circular plastics economy, whereby plastics can be used and recycled sustainably.

But even though there is growing awareness about the issue of plastic pollution, the scale of the task at hand is immense. By 2050, the oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish by weight, while the plastics industry is likely to consume 20% of total oil production and 15% of the annual carbon budget.