Containment and Disposal of Debris in Surface Water Bodies

A research report on river-borne plastic debris flowing into the seas, issued by the Ocean Cleanup in June 2017, indicated that 1.15 to 2.41 million tons of plastic debris are brought into the ocean every year by over 40 thousand rivers investigated in the research around the world, and the top 20 rivers contributed 2/3 of the total amount. As a member of the global village, Taiwan must promote the management of containment and disposal of debris in surface water bodies to reduce the amount of debris brought to the seas.

Individuals or businesses emit wastewater or dump debris directly into rivers, causing water pollution or accumulation of debris, undermining flow of water, flood discharge, ecology and water quality of the rivers, and even the environment and ecology to which the general public is a part of. The debris eventually flows into the seas along with rivers, causing marine pollution.

Water body debris pollution
Water body debris pollution

The EPA, dedicated to the reduction of marine debris, promoted a vision of “Plastic Free Ocean” and formed Marine Debris Governance Platform jointly with NGOs in 2017. The alliance proposed Action Plan of Marine Debris Governance in Taiwan in 2018, by which EPA planned to manage “debris containment and disposal in surface water bodies around the country” to prevent “land-based debris entering into the seas.”

Plastic Free Ocean” promoted by the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA)
Plastic Free Ocean” promoted by the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA)


(1) Public-private partnership: the EPA cooperates with universities, colleges, communities, enterprises and organizations to implement a series of water body protection campaigns that involved the general public

The main source of marine debris comes from the land. The debris enters into surface water bodies mostly through rivers and underground sewage ways, and then flows into the seas. To intercept the debris and reduce the amount entering into the seas, the EPA cooperated with river guards or volunteers and community organizations to organize beach-cleaning or river-cleaning campaigns. Nowadays it further collaborated with Water Resources Agency, Department of Irrigation and Engineering and local governments to jointly reduce land-based debris.

River guards cleaning the river water and riverbank

(2) Management of containment and disposal of debris in surface water bodies

According to Article 2 of Water Pollution Control Act, “surface water body” refers to “water, in part or in whole, existing in rivers, the sea, lakes, reservoirs, ponds, irrigation canals, all classes of water drainage channels and other systems.” Based on this definition, the EPA chose to manage rivers, regional water drainage, rainwater drainage, side drains and canals, the five water bodies where debris is most likely to pile up.

Competent authorities governing water bodies in local governments inspect water bodies and implement containment and disposal operations regularly. They start by understanding the basics of debris in water bodies and then analyze possible causes of pollution hotspots, so to deploy appropriate resources for containment and disposal operations, and build a joint defense system across departments. Given that many departments are involved in the management of water bodies, the EPA took the initiative to negotiate with different departments to form consensus, systemize and integrate resources, so to strengthen routine management practices of each department and to collectively stop land-based debris from flowing into the seas.

Departments governing the containment and disposal of debris in surface water bodies
Departments governing the containment and disposal of debris in surface water bodies
  • 1. Inspection
    • Timely report when debris is spotted during field investigation, and undertake containment and disposal operation.
    • Build water body debris background information through long-term inspection .
  • 2. Containment and disposal
    • Containment and disposal operations are undertaken by each water body governing authority regularly or irregularly .
    • Classify debris regularly to understand the composition of debris.
Types of containment or disposal equipment
Hand net
Containment boom
Trash rack
Interception station
Debris removal vessel
The EPA inviting concerned departments to form partnerships


  • To achieve the goal that “no land-based debris enters into the seas,” the EPA has been urging water body managing authorities around the country to report the amount of debris contained or disposed on line since 2019. The statistics showed that a total of 22,566 tons of debris has been cleaned from January 1 to May 15, 2019, significantly higher than the average amount in the past years. After 301 classification operations, it was discovered that the debris mostly composed of sludge, common water hyacinths and bamboos and tree branches. In addition to sludge, plants, bamboos or tree branches that might obstruct the waterways, the debris in the surface water bodies was mainly composed of packed garbage (52.3%), plastic waste (28.8%), and animal corpse (8.5%)- most of them were part of household waste. Please refer to tables below for data of other debris.
  • A total of 5,103 water body containment and disposal stops were put in place for 2,251 water bodies around the country. Each stop is equipped with bumps, intercepting gates, bridge piers or incoming drainage ports. From January 1 to May 15, 2019, these stops contained and disposed 1,865.7 tons of debris from water bodies, with another 20,700.6 tons removed from non-fixed locations.
  • In 2018, the country has 428 water environment safeguard teams, composed of 12,018 members. They were engaged in 3,718 river cleaning operations and cleaned a total of 410 tons of debris.
Note: data of 2019 were collected from January to April.

Classification of debris

Man-made debris

Debris cleaned were mainly sludge, common water hyacinths and weed plants. Water plants that might obstruct waterways were also removed during the clean-up.

Table of debris contained or disposed from surface water bodies around the country based on classification

Classification %
Sludge 97.1749%
Weed plants 1.2834%
Common water hyacinths 0.9614%
Bamboos or tree branches 0.3589%
Other debris 0.1383%
Dead fish 0.0477%
Packed garbage 0.0186%
Plastics 0.0102%
Animal Corpse 0.0030%
Styrofoam 0.0027%
Glass 0.0006%
Steel or aluminum cans 0.0002%
Waste tyres 0.0001%
Total 100%

from surface water bodies around the country based on classification

Classification %
Packed garbage 52.3%
Plastics 28.82%
Animal Corpse 8.5%
Styrofoam 7.72%
Glass 1.65%
Steel or aluminum cans 0.68%
Waste tyres 0.33%
Total 100%
Note: other debris includes fishing net, scrap paper, cigarette butts, lunch boxes, cigarette boxes, package bags of compound materials and other things that does not belong any class of debris (data collect from January to May 15).