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Researcher Gets 57,000 Research Assistants

Children and young people from all over Denmark are helping Roskilde University’s Kristian Syberg to map plastic pollution in Denmark. It will provide a unique dataset that will make us wiser vis-à-vis one of the planet’s biggest environmental challenges.
Kristian Syberg.

Right now, plastic in our seas, alongside global climate change, is probably the hottest environmental potato. Huge amounts of plastic pile up in the water and get deposited in almost every part of the ecosystem, where it causes damage in ways of which we do not yet know the full extent. To learn more about the level of plastic pollution, the national science Centre, Astra, together with MarinePlastic launched ‘Masseeksperimentet’ (The Mass Experiment). In October, Danish schoolchildren throughout the country rallied together to collect and identify plastic waste on Denmark’s coastlines: a job that otherwise would be impossible to carry out on the same scale.

The man heading this scientific project is Kristian Syberg. He is Associate Professor in Environmental Risk at Roskilde University’s Department of Science and Environment and spokesman for MarinePlastic - a multidisciplinary centre that conducts research into plastic pollution in the world’s oceans and includes researchers from Roskilde University, DTU, the National Museum of Denmark, Aarhus University and Aalborg University.

Unique data

In October, in the physics classroom at Store Magleby School in Dragør, the children of Form 7A were busy analysing the plastic, which they had just collected a few hundred metres away. They were clearly surprised at how much they found and were concentrating on finding out what types of plastic they had brought back.

This is providing us with a totally unique dataset. There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world - this mapping of a whole country’s pollution like this

»I’d say that doing this and seeing the effect plastic has on nature is making me more aware about caring for nature,« says Noah, a pupil in the class, as he slogs away trying to classify a piece of plastic from his collection. He is just one of the many thousands of children who spend hours gathering and analysing plastic in Denmark’s nature. It will then be Kristian Syberg’s job to analyse the vast dataset that results from the work - something he is really looking forward to:

»This is providing us with a totally unique dataset. There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world - this mapping of a whole country’s pollution like this,« explains Kristian Syberg. »For me as a researcher, it is hugely exciting to have such a dataset, and it can help us to create knowledge to support societal processes and create action in society on an enlightened basis.«

Pupils collecting plastic
Pupils from Store Magleby School in Dragør collecting plastic as part of the Mass Experiment. Photo: Camilla Hey.

More information about the researcher

He has previously conducted research into chemical pollution, but since 2014 has been concentrating on plastic pollution, after he started working with the NGO, Plastic Change, with which he has also travelled for the purpose of mapping and collecting plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. He received both the National Energy Globe Award and the Roskilde University’s Research Dissemination Award in 2018.