Benioff Ocean Initiative and The Coca-Cola Foundation Announce $11 Million in Funding to Clean Up Rivers and Stem Flow of Waste to Oceans


California: Nine river clean-up programs across the world have been selected to receive a total of $11 million over the next three years as part of a unique partnership between The Coca-Cola Foundation and the Benioff Ocean Initiative at the University of California Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute.

The partnership combines The Coca-Cola Foundation’s commitment to support behavioral-change projects regarding recycling and the Benioff Ocean Initiative’s expertise in developing innovative ways to collect and analyze waste from our rivers and oceans and address the plastic crisis.

“The Coca-Cola Foundation is delighted to partner with the Benioff Ocean Initiative and co-fund nine river clean-up programs,” said Helen Smith Price, president of

The Coca -Cola Foundation. “This is an important global partnership for a truly global challenge – cleaning up some of the world’s most polluted rivers and identifying new ways to prevent plastic waste from entering our rivers and oceans.

“The World Without Waste strategy of The Coca-Cola Company and The Foundation’s focus on recycling and behavioral-change projects highlight the need for greater collaboration between business, governments, charitable organizations, researchers and NGOs to make this happen. We believe projects such as these nine river clean-up programs are a real and effective means of working together to deliver real change around the world.”

The programs selected for funding span four continents: Asia, Africa, North America and South America.

Dr. Douglas McCauley, Professor at UC Santa Barbara and Director of the Benioff Ocean Initiative, said, “Scientists have made great strides in identifying how important rivers are in carrying plastic waste to the ocean. We are so thrilled to now use this research to strategically mount an intervention to this global problem.”

Chancellor Henry T. Yang, UC Santa Barbara, said, “UC Santa Barbara researchers, including Professor Douglas McCauley and his team, are leaders in advancing scientific research on plastic debris in the environment. Now we are advancing such scientific research to address the growing problem of plastic waste, including reducing the flow of plastics from rivers to oceans. We are most grateful to The Coca-Cola Foundation for

their vital support. Their partnership with our campus and the Benioff Ocean Initiative will positively impact communities in each of the project regions and serve as a collaborative model to mitigate plastics pollution globally.”

The Marea Verde project to clean up the Matias Hernandez River in Panama is the first to be awarded funding, in recognition of its innovative application of cutting-edge technology, creative and comprehensive outreach strategy, and strong interdisciplinary leadership team.

“Panama contributes to marine trash with an estimated 100,000 plus tons per year,” said Mirei Endara, co-founder of Marea Verde. “Since October 2017, we have manually captured and prevented over 1,100 tons of trash from reaching the ocean just from the Matias Hernandez watershed and river mouth. From the characterization pilots carried out in our river site, we know that over 55% of this trash is plastics.

“With this funding, we will be able to integrate technology and artificial intelligence into our project, which will help us be more effective in collecting trash at our river site, generate pertinent data and develop the capacity to work with communities in this watershed. Our ultimate goal is to provide best practices that may be replicated in other watersheds in Panama and the world, in an effort to positively impact the river plastic challenge.”

Eight other programs – in Vietnam, India, Indonesia, Ecuador, Mexico, Thailand, Jamaica and Kenya – are also being finalized for funding. Details of these, including the specific rivers and locations, will be announced in the future. Each project will both clean up the target polluted river and use data about the captured waste to change behavior in people, local communities and businesses.

“We are definitely excited about getting this plastic waste out of our rivers and oceans,” Dr. McCauley remarked. “But we are also excited to turn this plastic waste into data that can help us turn off the tap of this waste in the first place.”