However, predicting flood-induced litter accumulation along riverbanks is complex due to the cumulative interplay of multiple environmental (geomorphological and riparian) and anthropogenic factors.

Using empirical data collected from 14 stream reaches in two Northern Atlantic rivers in Portugal, our study evaluates which factors, among geomorphological, riparian, and anthropogenic descriptors, best drive riverside litter accumulation after floods. Taking into account the longitudinal gradient and the spatial heterogeneity of the studied reaches, our study enhances how the accumulation and characteristics (type, size) of riverside litter vary across a rural-urban continuum.

Our model reveals that the combination of the human population density and the stream slope at river reach showed the highest explanatory power for the accumulation of riverside litter. Our findings indicate that litter tends to be retained close to the source, even under flood conditions. We also found that the structure of riparian vegetation showed low explanatory power for litter accumulation. However, riparian trapping could be influenced by litter input (density and type) which varies with anthropogenic activities.

This work highlights the importance of gathering field data to identify critical areas of riverside litter accumulation within river basins. Our findings can further support environmental managers in designing and implementing effective cleanup campaigns and implementing plastic recovery strategies at specific areas. Nevertheless, it is crucial to enhance coordinated efforts across the entire value chain to reduce plastic pollution, promote innovative approaches for plastic litter valorization, and establish effective prevention pathways.