PET Cup – Pirates of the Tisza

Date: 17–25, July 2015.

Destinations: Vásárosnamény – Tiszaadony – Tiszamogyorós – Zsurk – Tuzsér – Révleányvár – Cigánd.

The goal of the Plastic Cup is to direct and raise public awareness towards the Tisza River in Eastern Europe, where pollution has reached a level that is far too high to continue ignoring. The source of pollution is the huge annual PET Bottle Flood, which carries tons of domestic garbage – mainly PET bottles and plastic bags – from upstream regions in Ukraine and Romania. Each spring, pollution wave sweeps along the entire river, finally depositing its plastic waste in the floodplain forests along the shorelines of Slovakia and Hungary. By now, the piles of the deposited plastic can reach several meters in height at certain spots. Upon seeing all this, a team of environmental filmmakers from Filmjungle Society (Hungary) decided to launch the Plastic Cup initiative. With strong support from local communities, the Plastic Cup starts out with a social event of PET bottle picking, a “trash hunt”, and continues with a wild boat-building competition of several teams, each building their own PET boats from the jointly collected garbage. Finally, the cup ends in a crazy long-distance boat-race on the river.

The first two Plastic Cups, held in 2013 and in 2014, were great success stories. The Plastic Pirates had covered more than 100 kilometres and collected nearly 25.000 bottles from the river. At the end of the boat-race, the winners were given the prestigious Plastic Cup made of – guess what – garbage from the river. Boats are afterwards recycled, just like the massive loads of plastic collected during the race.

"In 2015, we want to collect more PET bottles than ever before. Again, we want to build new boats from trash. We want to make the Tisza a healthy river again. And we want to turn the Plastic Cup into a tradition. With your help, we can do it." – proclaimed Attila Molnár, an idea owner for the project.

The environmental issue Plastic Cup is dealing with

Each year, tons of domestic and industrial waste is deposited into the floodplain of the Upper Tisza and its affluent rivers. There are regions in Ukraine and Romania where people cannot afford to pay for the transportation of domestic waste, or the waste management system does not operate in every village. The nearby Tisza offers an easy option. The floodplain stores the garbage and the spring flood takes most of it away – for free. The situation is very depressing at places like the confluence of the White and the Black Tisza. Countless PET bottles, plastic bags and other garbage, swept away by the annual flood, turn the otherwise beautiful Tisza into a moving dumpsite. Tens of thousands of PET bottles are drifting on its surface. In severe cases, more than 50 percent of the surface is covered with trash, a phenomenon also known as the annual PET Bottle Flood. After the flood, the shoreline is covered with plastic bags and PET bottles. Some places – like the Jandi Island in Hungary – are so badly affected that the height of plastic piles can reach several meters in height and increasing.

Authorities try to stop the PET Bottle Flood at places like the Kisköre Dam, but sometimes the contamination is too severe for them to handle. Apart from a few isolated efforts to collect some of the garbage, local communities, too, are helpless in times of the flood. Seeing this, we knew that something has to be done to stop this recurrent wave of pollution. Collecting trash, however, is a depressing and sad activity. How could it be turned into something more alluring, inspiring and entertaining? How could we reach an impact big enough to change people's mind on this issue in Hungary, Ukraine and Romania? We think that this is a situation where NGO's can really make a difference. Filmjungle Society is busy with making conservation documentaries and wildlife films. This Society gave birth to the initiative called the Plastic Cup.

Plastic Cup? What is this all about?

Plastic Cup might seem to be an ordinary boat race, but it is not.
Built on nothing else but pollution, Plastic Cup is powered by environmentally conscious people, companies and NGOs. Together, they can:

  • show the world how badly Tisza is affected by pollution,
  • do a lot against it,
  • and eventually, stop pollution.

Plastic Cup does the trick by:

  • Raising awareness – via web videos, short films and social posts bringing the topic to the widest audience possible
  • Collecting garbage – tens of thousands of bottles are removed from the river
  • Inspiring local communities – shore events, showing positive example to follow
  • Measuring pollution – mapping the plastic mountains, estimating the size of pollution
  • Bringing in knowledge – inviting companies, NGOs to fight pollution
  • Stopping the growth of plastic piles – bringing in foreign expertise
  • Starting international discussion – to deal with the source of pollution in Ukraine and Romania.

As some local people said to Plastic pirates, ‘We are grateful because you showed us that it makes no sense to sit and watch pollution.’

Looking for Romanian and Ukrainian partners!

We are looking for Romanian and Ukrainian partners (local governments, NGOs, business associations, educational institutions) who would be willing to help this initiative with data, information, photos, and supporting events, so that we can put an end to pollution in the near future!

In 2016, the organiser would like to see foreigner participants as well, so we anticipate applications from enthusiastic teams who would cross the borders and join the Plastic Cup from their homeland.

Parallel events also support the initiation, so you can join the river cleaning at different locations simultaneously! We are looking forward to hearing from already existing initiatives, too, they are kindly invited to join us in the common goal.

The waste monitoring launched this year can be expanded to other countries, thanks to the free mobile application we use:

Write to us, join us, let us make Tisza River a nice and clean link between our countries!

The organization behind the Pet Cup initiative

Filmjungle Society is an NGO founded in 1996 by independent documentary filmmakers. By now the Budapest-based Filmjungle Society has become the most productive production unit for films related to wildlife, natural history, science and conservation documentaries in Hungary. Its award winning list of films include titles such as Wolfwatching, Invisible Wildlife Photographer, Sharks in my Viewfinder, Budapest Wild, This Tree is Big.

How will this year’s Plastic CUP be different from the previous ones?

The PET fleet of 2015 will combat pollution with 20 ships made from litter and almost 100 PET pirates, which means an unprecedented level of collaboration with promising effect: this year the PET fleet set a many times bigger goal compared to the 10.000 bottles catch of last year!

Litter managing procedures will also be different. Volunteers, managed by GREENIUS and Volunteer Centre, are going to classify the collected waste to groups of reusables and non-reusables on a daily basis. The regional waste managing NGO based in Nyíregyháza (Térségi Hulladék-Gazdálkodási Nonprofit Kft.) has agreed to take responsibility over transportation as well as handling and preparing reusable waste, thus taking considerable part in the effective implementation of the project.

The third improvement will be establishing the aforementioned “waste map” database. This will be the first year, when the crew of PET boats will not only collect litter, but will also continuously monitor the extent and location of waste hills in the floodplain.

Another first-time attempt was that Plastic Cup popularized the Tisza-project on several locations both in Budapest (Boat Show, Day of Explorers) and in the countryside. As a result, the event has a patron this year: Ákos Vereckei, the two-time Olympic gold medallist in kayaking.

Since mass media will be more present at the competition, the organizers will provide satellite-based internet connection for media workers, so that the daily reports can reach the population in time.

From the Tisza to the Danube

The game-show host of the Plastic Cup in 2014, Ákos Méder solo round-the-world sailor, is preparing for a great achievement this year. Together with Balázs Horváth journalist they are planning a ship that will sail from Vásárosnamény to the Danube. Their initiative was named PET Mission of Tisza, and it aims at getting a general idea about the state of the Tisza as well as proving that the PET ships are able to span great distances, therefore these useful materials should not be discarded so carelessly.

Pirates wanted!!!

Volunteers, schoolchildren not only from Hungary but also from Romania and the Ukraine will join in the preparations of the Plastic Cup. When we have enough PET bottles to launch the PET fleet, we will start the race. Once onboard, PET pirates will start a live broadcast via the Internet and in the meantime produce an environmental documentary for televisions. Our goal is to create a tradition around the name ‘Plastic Cup’ and to make a yearly tradition out of this event. Our long term goal is to stop the annual PET bottle flood and to participate in eradicating the Plastic Ridge (series of Plastic Mountains) along the river. We believe that only by doing so can we put an end to the pollution of the Tisza.

Partners of the PET Cup: GREENIUS, Magyar Kajak-Kenu Szövetség (Hungarian kayak and canoe association), Termé, Filmdzsungel Kft., Szertár Blog.

Further sponsors, media partners, and socially responsible businesses: Térségi Hulladék-Gazdálkodási Nonprofit Kft. (regional wastemanagement non-profit ltd.), Polplast Kft., Petőfi TV, Prezi, Magyar Kajak-Kenu Szövetség (Hungarian kayak and canoe association),, Holofon Zrt., MESSER Hungarogáz kft., Tilos Radio, the team of Schneider-Electric's warehouse in Szigetszentmiklós, Decathlon, VAN Net, the settlements of Vásárosnamény, Cigánd and Zsurk.

Sponsors, partners

Ministry for Innovation and Technology