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Satellites could be used to detect dumping of plastic waste

Every year, millions of tons of plastic waste end up in oceans harming entire ecosystems.

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By Stephen Beech via SWNS

Satellite in space orbit
(True Touch Lifestyle via Shutterstock)

Satellites could be used to detect the dumping of plastic waste.

A new computer system uses 'spy in the sky' data to identify sites on land where people dispose of waste.

Scientists say that the new method could enable the monitoring of sites likely to leak plastic waste into rivers and oceans.

Every year, millions of tons of plastic waste end up in oceans, harming hundreds of species and their ecosystems.

Most of the waste comes from land-based sources that leak into watersheds.

Scientists say that efforts to address the issue require a better understanding of where people dispose of waste on land, but resources to detect and monitor such sites - both official sites and informal or illegal ones - are limited.

Big data network technologies with digital round world map with satellite at opened laptop background. Double exposure
(Golden Dayz via Shutterstock)

Dr. Fabien Laurier, of the Minderoo Foundation in the USA teamed up with Caleb Kruse, of California-based Earthrise Media, and colleagues to work on the new project detailed in the journal PLOS One.

Dr. Laurier said: "In recent years, the use of computational tools known as neural networks to analyze satellite data has shown great value in the field of remote sensing."

Building on that work, the team developed a new system of neural networks to analyze data from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellites and showed its potential for use in monitoring waste sites on land.

To evaluate the performance of the new system, the researchers first applied it to Indonesia, where it detected 374 waste sites - more than twice the number of sites reported in public records.


Dr. Laurier said: "Broadening to all countries across South East Asia, the system identified a total of 966 waste sites - nearly three times the number of publicly recorded sites —that were subsequently confirmed to exist via other methods."

The research team showed that their new system can be used to monitor waste sites over time.

They also showed that nearly 20 percent of the waste sites they detected are found within 200 meters of a waterway, with some visibly spilling into rivers that eventually reach the ocean.

Dr. Laurier said: "These findings, as well as future findings using this system, could help inform waste-management policies and decision-making.

"The data are publicly available, so stakeholders can use it to advocate for action within their communities.

Looking ahead, the researchers plan to refine and expand their new waste site-monitoring system globally.

He added: "For the first time, Global Plastic Watch arms governments and researchers around the world with data that can guide better waste management interventions, ensuring land-based waste doesn’t end up in our oceans.”

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