Coffee makers, vacuum cleaners and washing machines, just some of the litter that can be found in our waters. The concerns about the plastic soup in the world’s seas, oceans, rivers and other waters are growing. Studies show that the impact of the plastic, and especially the micro parts, is devastating for the water’s ecosystem. Maritime by Holland Magazine delves into three projects that are setting an example, by fighting for cleaner waters.
In 2000 the Fishing for Litter project, organised by KIMO (Local Authorities International Environmental Organisation), started in Great Britain, Scandinavia and Western Europe. In this programme fishermen are actively involved in fighting litter in the North Sea, in which approximately 20 million kilogrammes of waste a year is discharged, threatening the sea life, the public health and sectors like fishery and tourism.
Bert Veerman, secretary at KIMO Netherlands and Belgium: ”While fishing, fishermen constantly catch waste in their nets. In former times, they would often throw it back, but now the fishermen on 99 Dutch and Belgian fishing vessels collect the waste in big bags. The fishermen bring about 400,000 kilogrammes of waste ashore every year.” These big bags are sorted by hand by waste collector Bek & Verburg, who has been involved in the project since its beginning. Daan van Mullem, director at Bek & Verburg: ”In the big bags we find all kinds of waste, not only plastic and garbage, but also things like a wing of a small airplane.” A list of findings has been recorded and heron you can find among other things 22 coffee makers, eight vacuum cleaners and 59 washing machines.
Van Mullem about their participation: ‘‘We want to show that there is a lot of waste that ends up in the seas. A lot of improvement in creating awareness is still possible. 93 per cent of the waste collected by Bek & Verburg is recycled and we are always looking for the most sustainable option to reuse the waste. The seven per cent that cannot be recycled is stored at Maasvlakte 2, so that it possibly, in the future when new techniques are created, can yet be recycled.”
The effect of microplastics
In January 2013 the CleanSea project kicked off, in which the VU University Amsterdam, KIMO, University of Exeter, Örebro University and a dozen other partners from across the EU are collaborating, covering the Black Sea, Baltic Sea, Mediterranean Sea and the North Sea/NE Atlantic Ocean. The project is funded by the EU and its goal is to provide key scientific knowledge and tools for marine litter monitoring and action plans, since the EU is aiming to achieve Good Environmental Status (GES) under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, a new regulation, by 2020. Dr. Heather Leslie, coordinator of the project and working at the Institute for Environmental Studies at the VU University Amsterdam: ”We are taking an interdisciplinary approach to studying the marine litter problem. We not only investigate environmental impacts and develop measurement methods, but we also examine socioeconomic and institutional drivers of marine litter and are evaluating different policy options and good practises that help to keep litter out of the sea.”
Leslie continues: ”We examine the effects of litter at sea by zooming in on the microplastic particles and their effect on small invertebrates that are important to marine ecosystems. At the same time we are trying to improve sampling and analytical methods and harmonise the monitoring data collected, so they can be compared enabling Europe to manage the marine litter problem better.” Some of the data for the CleanSea project is collected by ten Dutch fishing ships from the Fishing for Litter programme. Veerman: ‘‘Every two hours they note their position and other data like their catch, dredged waste and speed. The waste they bring ashore is measured and analysed.” These data describing the litter on the sea bed are being reported and used in marine litter modelling exercises. Leslie: ”The Dutch research institution Deltares is also using this data in a transport model of marine litter, which helps us trace where litter goes and where we might expect to find more of it.”
At the close of 2015, CleanSea will synthesise three years of research into a compact Roadmap with ideas on how to guide Europe to a litterfree sea, accompanied by a short documentary film illustrating important findings and insights. Leslie: ”We want to present our roadmap in an optimistic way, showing Brussels and all interested stakeholders what is already working well, which good practises we can strengthen and expand upon. In order to fix the problem, you have to first actually believe it is possible to fix it. A single project will not solve the problem, but it is a start and with attention, knowledge and political will and other external factors, changes can be made.”
Plastic is gold
A third project is taken place in the capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam. More specific on the Amsterdam canals, where non-profit organisation PlasticWhale is dredging the waste floating around the surface. Founder Marius Smit: ”The seed for the idea to remove plastic waste from our waters was planted twelve years ago during a world trip my wife and I were taking. On the most beautiful places of the world, I always came across plastic waste. A few years ago I decided to actually start doing something against it, using social media, friends and family. And with my message: ‘I want to build a boat from plastic waste, but I have never sailed a boat, let alone constructed one. Help me or follow me during this challenge.'”
People actually started helping Smit, and last year the dream boat made of plastic dredged from the Amsterdam Canals, was realised. In the mean time PlasticWhale and the idea of going out and dredging up the waste yourself has reached success. Smit: ”In order to involve more citizens, companies and governments, we started four years ago with the first oud-Amsterdamsch Plastic Visschen (in English: old-Amsterdam Plastic Fishing, ed.) event. The first time around 400 people were present, the second year 1,000. Now we also organise Koningsvissen (in English: King Fishing on the national Kingsday, ed.) and Bedrijfsvissen (in English: Company Fishing, ed.), where this year companies like Nike, Tommy Hilfiger and Dutch trade organisation for water sports HISWA will be present.”
Smit thinks the simplicity of the concept is what makes it such a success: ”A lot of people are annoyed by the litter in the Amsterdam canals, next to this a lot of people want to contribute to the world and lastly, people love to sail on the Amsterdam canals. This combination seems magic.” Next to the Plastic Whale they already built, Smit sees a new future for the plastic waste: ”We are now in the process of finding meaningful purposes for it, so we can show that there is value in what others think is waste. Plastic is our gold.”
Eventually, Smit wants to clear all waters of the plastic soup: ”First, though, we want to address the litter in Amsterdam so we can make our project here a showcase for the rest of the world.”