News in 2020

FIG and MAPPING THE PLASTIC - Background and Mapathon

In 2019 at the FIG General Assembly in Hanoi, Vietnam FIG Commission 4 - Hydrography together with FIG Young Surveyors established a Working Group on Mapping the Plastic. The Working Group is chaired by Simon Ironside, New Zealand and focus is on the dumping of plastics (and other waste) into major rivers, river systems and deltas at strategic locations around the world. Waste measurement in these water bodies using remote sensing, bathymetyric, current measurement and topographical surveys of plastic waste along the banks of rivers will enable a greater understanding of the quantum of plastic waste being transported to the oceans and inform the control and regulation of land use practices with an ultimate goal of eradicating the dumping of plastics into river systems.

The Working Group has been busy and continues to be. In conjunction with the FIG Working Week in Amsterdam a Plastic Mapathon and Plastic Survey will be held Saturday 9 and Sunday 10 May 2020. The goal is to investigate the extent of existing information on plastic pollution of waterways in the Netherlands/Europe through formal survey datasets held by governments and academia and to develop techniques for collecting this information. For more information and to register, please visit 

Gordana Jakovljovic, a Young Surveyor and Ph.D. student will make a plenary presentation: Mapping plastic – the step forward for a cleaner environment during the FIG Working Week. Gordana will examine the developed methodology and results of the identification of floating plastic by using remote sensing and geospatial technologies. Produced maps should be used as a base for the creation of action plans for removing plastic from the environment.

For more information about the FIG Working Week, please visit

The background

This text is based on an article published in GeoConnexion Magazine

By Simon Ironside, Chair of FIG Commission Working Group 4.3

The effects of plastic pollution on the Earth’s oceans are well documented, potentially catastrophic and increasing exponentially year on year. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has calculated that only nine per cent of the nine billion tonnes of plastic produced throughout the world has been re-cycled and each year more than 8 million tonnes of plastic come to reside in our oceans. Eighty per cent of all litter in our oceans is made of plastic. This is an intolerable problem that needs immediate and far-reaching action to remedy. Eric Solheim, Head of UN Environment, speaking at the launch of the #CleanSeas campaign argued that it was past time to tackle the plastic problem that blights our oceans. ‘We’ve stood by too long as the problem has gotten worse’ he said, ‘it must stop’.

The surveying profession agrees. The International Federation of Surveyors (FIG) represents the interests of surveyors in over 120 countries. Through a combined initiative of FIG Young Surveyors Network and Commission 4 (Hydrography), FIG has formed a Working Group (WG 4.3)on Mapping the Plastic to better understand plastic pollution in waterways by providing accurate and reliable information of the magnitude of the problem at source, thereby highlighting unsustainable practices, identifying infrastructure shortcomings and informing robust land use controls with the ultimate goal of eradicating the dumping plastic waste into rivers.p>

Rivers have been identified as a significant contributor to, and enabler of, the plastic pollution problem affecting our oceans. UNEP estimates that just ten major river systems carry more than 80% of the plastic waste that ends up in the Earth’s oceans. Much of the available information relating to the scale of the plastic pollution problem is based on relatively crude modelling. Plastic litter is predominantly concentrated on banks, coastal beaches and in the upper limits of surface water bodies. The lack of a means of comprehensive analysis of the spatial and temporal extent and quantum of plastic waste at a specific site, or on a regional or global level and the tools for ongoing monitoring represents a significant obstacle to addressing and eradicating the plastic waste ‘explosion’.

Click for bigger format

As surveyors and spatial professionals, we have the requisite skills and expertise to determine the vectors, quantum and frequency of plastic passing through waterways and to accurately quantify the amount and type of plastic litter on riverbanks, coastlines and estuarine areas. Our response to this problem is to provide accurate and repeatable data at specific locations to assist regulators and better inform land use control decisions.

Our Response To The Problem

Remote sensing data from satellites and airborne platforms available in different spatial, spectral and temporal resolutions has the potential to be a reliable source of long-term qualitative and quantitative information over large geographic areas. Research by members of the Mapping the Plastic working group at universities in Bosnia and Hezegovina and Serbia are currently underway to distinguish plastics from surrounding litter/debris classes using remote sensing techniques and the results are very promising.

Assessment of the spatial extent and variability of plastic is possible due to the unique spectral signature of polymers in the near-infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum and we are looking at defining the data acquisition technology and identification methodology that will enable identification of plastic debris down to 1 cm2 in size.

An object-pixel based algorithm for mapping plastic distribution in surface (fresh) water using Red, Green Blue (RGB) and Multi Spectral (MS) images from high resolution WorldView2 satellite images has been developed and is described in the paper "Remote sensing data in mapping plastics at surface water bodies" written by Gordana Jakovljević, Prof. Miro Govedarica and Flor Álvarez Tabobada, which was published and presented at the 2019 FIG Working Week held in Hanoi, Vietnam in May this year. (Ms Jakovljević and Prof. Govedarica are WG 4.3 members)

The paper describes the creation of algorithms and models for plastic identification and their associated accuracies based on high resolution, 8-band, multi-spectral images from the WorldView-2 satellite of plastic debris in the River Drina in Serbia. This research has subsequently been expanded, focussing on the results from additional study areas in rivers in Bosnia and Hezegovina using a WingtraOne drone with a high resolution (42 mega pixel) RGB camera and a high quality MS camera. Several surveys have been undertaken at differing heights and resolutions using specially designed markers. Work is ongoing to refine the analytical processes and survey methodologies for adoption, and the preliminary results are encouraging. However, this project’s accuracy and application is uniquely challenged by the lack of existing polymer ‘libraries’, as this project is one of the first attempts at identifying plastic in this manner.

How We Do It

A combination of high resolution satellite and drone data has been processed using the developed algorithms to detect floating plastic in surface water, combined with ‘ground truthing’ land surveying measurements, bathymetric and water current data. This data will enable teams of volunteers to accurately map plastic concentrations at global ‘hot spots’ to enable regulators to better understand the extent of the phenomenon they are dealing with and inform decisions that impact the potential solution.

In order to undertake the field work required to infill gaps in the satellite/drone data, Trimble has kindly donated a suite of surveying hardware and software to the Mapping the Plastic working group, consisting of

  • R10 GNSS receivers
  • A Greenseeker crop sensor
  • Trimble Business Centre
  • eCognition software

On behalf of FIG I would like to express my gratitude to Trimble for their assistance. This equipment will be of enormous benefit and is greatly appreciated.

Negotiations are ongoing to secure a drone to assist with the plastic surveys.


Our principal volunteer base is the FIG Young Surveyors Network (YSN), with their interconnecting networks in each of the more than 100 FIG Member Associations and other members such as academic, corporate and affiliate (cadastral and mapping agencies) members. However, youth is not necessarily a pre-requisite and we are seeking volunteers of all ages with a strong sense of social responsibility, commitment and adventure; surveying and spatial expertise would be an advantage! The YSN is coordinating the Mapping the Plastic training programme through their networks including at the 2020 FIG Working Week to be held in Amsterdam, the Netherlands next May.

For those wishing to volunteer for this demanding but satisfying work please contact YSN Chair Melissa Harrington – melissa_harrington [at]

Presentation at FIG Working Week 2019 by Britta Denise Hardesty, TJ Lawson, Qamar Schuyler, Chris Wilcox (Australia), 
Trang Nguyen and Hoa Tran (Vietnam): Mapping the Plastic along Hai Phong's Urban and Coastal Margins (10175)


The (anti) plastics ‘movement’ world-wide is dynamic, motivated, concerned (verging on angry!), well informed and growing rapidly. The problem is huge, if not overwhelming, and one of the things the surveying profession has learned is that forming alliances with groups within the plastics movement is the most effective way of directly influencing positive outcomes. It also enables the profession to understand where and how we can contribute most effectively. The 2019 FIG Working Week in Hanoi, Vietnam was an opportunity to form a relationship with GreenHub- a young, dynamic and green Vietnamese NGO, and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) who are doing great work in the plastics field. GreenHub and CSIRO have undertaken a large plastic survey along the Hai Phong coastline near Hanoi and attendees were fortunate that these organizations were able to present the results of their survey at the Mapping the Plastic session in Hanoi. A representative of the Vietnamese government presented a rather gloomy picture of Vietnam’s plastic problem and World Bank representatives in attendance expressed interest in uses of the plastic detection algorithm the working group have developed, particularly the ability to identify individual plastic manufacturers. One of the ‘hot spot’ areas the working group  has discussed  with GreenHub and the Vietnamese government is the Mekong Delta in the south of Vietnam. Unfortunately, there are no shortage of hotspots that require attention.  

MaMapping the Plastic at FIG 2020 Working Week in Amsterdam

We hope you can join us in Amsterdam next May. As part of the programme we will be undertaking a plastic waste survey to raise awareness of the problem and to train our volunteers and, using the data from the survey, hosting a hackathon to refine our plastic detection algorithms and survey ‘deliverables’ as well as presenting technical papers in a dedicated Mapping the Plastic stream. The 2020 Working Week is an ideal gathering for the Working Group as it enables us to discuss the issues surrounding plastic waste with delegates from different countries, particularly ‘hotspot countries’ and the ways in which we can assist.

For more information about the FIG Working Week, please visit href="">

Mapping the Plastic at FIG 2019 Working Week in Hanoi

During the FIG Working Week in Hanoi, Vietnam a session on Mapping the Plastic was held. The session highlighted the study carried out on the issue of waste measurement in the water bodies using remote sensing, bathymetric, current measurement and topographical surveys of plastic waste along the banks of rivers. The presentations enabled a greater understanding of the quantum of plastic waste being transported to the oceans and inform the control and regulation of land use practices with an ultimate goal of eradicating the dumping of plastics into river systems.

Britta Denise Hardesty, TJ Lawson, Qamar Schuyler, Chris Wilcox (Australia), Trang Nguyen and Hoa Tran (Vietnam):
Mapping the Plastic along Hai Phong's Urban and Coastal Margins (10175)
[abstract] [paper] [handouts]

Thang Le Dai (Vietnam):
Overview of Marine Plastic Debris in Vietnam in Relation to International Context (10174)
[abstract] [paper] [handouts]

Nguyen Thi Thu Trang (Vietnam):
Mapping the Plastic (10176)
[abstract] [paper] [handouts]<]

Gordana Jakovljević (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Miro Govedarica (Serbia) and Flor Álvaret Taboada (Spain):
Remote Sensing Data in Mapping Plastics at Surface Water Bodies (9974)
[abstract] [paper] [handouts]


Simon Ironside
Chair Working Group 4.3 – Mapping the Plasticr /> sironside [@]