TIME FOR THE BIG CLEAN UP

Fight the plastic soup

Once a year, millions of people come together all over the planet to clean up streets, fields, beaches and parks. The ocean needs a large clean up as well. Dif focusses on the 10 best ideas to fight the plastic soup.

text Lies Dieben

photography Vicco Seger Bosch

 

Thanks to: Waste2Wear, Niccy Kol, Plastic Whale Foundation

#1 Fashion to fix the ocean

The plastic soup in the oceans produces raw materials. We can make things from the waste like clothes, shoes and bags. Adidas already makes shoes from discarded fishing nets

#2 Waste to Wear

16 bottles for a dress, 60 for a winter jacket; now you can really wear sustainable fashion and make it count.

 

Plastic can be spun into yarns used to make clothing, shoes, bags, or anything else that we make from fabric. Famously, fishing nets confiscated by Sea Shepherd have been made into shoes by Adidas, but Waste2wear is a company that was spinning yarn from plastic long before. They transform plastic water bottles into functional and fashionable fabrics that are already being used by several big clothing brands. 30% of the bottles used in their production process was fished out of the ocean.

 

Monique Maissan started her career as a buyer for a big clothing company, but left there 22 years ago to start her own clothing company in China: Vision Textiles.

While there, she started to take an interest in clothing recycling and recycled resources for fabric, way before it was the cool thing to do. This decade-long quest eventually resulted in Waste2Wear, an organization that recycles plastic water bottles into yarn, 30% of which are collected from the ocean.

With several big brands from the Netherlands, Waste2Wear developed clothing that went on sale this summer, and which can be recognized by the Waste2Wear label, which indicates the amount of recycled bottles the garment contains.

 

(read more at the bottom)

#3 Edible packaging

Around the world, alternatives for non-degradable plastic are popping up. Sure, you can go biodegradable, but Bakeys takes it one step further. This Indian company produces edible cutlery, in several sweet or savoury flavours, eliminating the need for plastic disposables, and E6PR makes edible beer can rings (a major wildlife killer both on land and in the ocean), eliminating the need for that bag of chips to go with your beer. And if you don’t eat them, the fish will.

#4 Ecobranding

Instead of using plastic wrappers for fresh produce, ecobranding uses lasers to extract some of the colour of the products, and produces a ‘sticker’ that is readable, edible and stylish.  Dutch company Eosta developed this ‘natural branding’, which eliminates the need for stickers on, and in the future perhaps also plastic wrappers around, fruit and vegetables.

#5 Wash filters

The fibers your beautiful new fleece sweater is shedding every time you wash it are choking our oceans…micro plastics from synthetic clothing are proving to be a much greater problem than we thought. Wear natural fibers, from organic sources, and wash the synthetic clothing you already own with a wash filter.  Ideally, our washing machines would come equipped with filters that can take out the micro-pollution, but though many are working on such a solution, it doesn’t exist just yet. In the meantime, the Guppy Friend is a wash bag that will collect the microfibers and prevent them from contaminating the wastewater.

#6 Solid to soap

Replacing all your liquids by solids is of course best, but for those that prefer liquid soap: try Twenty; the new invention that allows you to buy tablets of solid shampoo or soap and dissolve them in water at home, for those that still prefer liquids but don’t want to pay for the 80% water that is now in your bottles. Buy a bottle once, then just add a tablet, water and shake.

#7 Building blocks

Organisation Eco Bricks is combining waste reduction with public engagement and community efforts. Poor communities can use washed-up waste, which they usually have no money to recycle or even store properly, and build sorely needed homes and public buildings with it. 

Take a plastic bottle, stuff it so full of other plastic waste that it becomes, well, brick solid, and then literally use those bottles as building bricks for walls and roofs. The finishing and bonding can be done with eco-friendly adobe, and the result is a sturdy structure at almost no cost. Entire communities have joined forces to collect, stuff and build together.

#8 Returnable packaging

RePack delivers a service to e-commerce companies: sturdy packaging that is made out of recycled plastic, which the end-consumer can mail back to the company free of charge, for re-use. Receive your order, unpack, fold out the box and simply throw it into the mailbox.

#9 Waste to fuel

The British Swansea University has found a way to turn any kind of plastic into hydrogen fuel, a clean fuel for the future, and a cheaper, easier and more workable solution than recycling plastic, which usually requires the plastic to be sorted and is limited to only certain kinds of plastic.

#10 Waste to furniture

Plastic Whale started out as an NGO that organised plastic clean-ups in canals in Amsterdam. Tourists and companies can book ‘plastic fishing’ day trips, but now they are taking it one step further and using that fished plastic to create office furniture. You pay a furniture deposit, which you will get refunded if you return the furniture to them after use, so they can recycle it again.

LONGREAD 4 MIN

WASTE ON YOUR BODY AND IN YOUR HOUSE

Precious plastic

Where there is a lot of, you can make beautiful things. The Ocean Plastic Project analyzes where plastic waste comes from, wants plastic to collect and reuse it. Then we get beautiful products and there is less plastic waste.

MONIQUE MAISSAN AND HER COMPANY started the Ocean Plastic Project, together with Chinese NGO’s, universities and commercial parties.  The project doesn’t just clean up plastic, it also analyses where it came from and aims to prevent further pollution by trying to work with the biggest sources of pollution on better alternatives.

Maissan: “We want to identify, reduce and recycle the entire chain of waste, start to finish.  That means we need the cooperation established between Dutch companies, Chinese NGO’s, the Donghua University and the TU Delft. The universities help us investigate the different kinds of waste and viable replacements for the plastic. Of course, it would be better if we could all prevent the plastic from ending up in the ocean to begin with, or, better yet, prevent it from being made at all, but that will also require a change in the consumer attitude. For now, we are trying to change the existing waste into beautiful products.”

Fishing for resources

The circle will hopefully start turning upward soon; once plastic can be re-used for more and more purposes, its worth will go up and less people will throw it away. In poorer countries, usually also where the plastic pollution is worst, people can gain an extra income by collecting plastic and handing it in for recycling, resulting in cleaner beaches, cleaner streets, cleaner environments, which will bring an extra benefit for communities in tourist areas.

In the Indian village of Kerala, India, fishermen are now being paid to bring in the plastic from their nets. They used to just throw it back over board, but with catch numbers severely declining due to pollution, the Kerala minister of Fisheries decided to start this trial to clean the oceans and beaches, making them more attractive to tourists again and conditioning the locals to see plastic as valuable resource. The 25 tonnes they have brought to shore so far has been recycled to serve as road surface and has served as a source of employment for many local villagers, men and women alike.

Illegal plastic

The African countries of Rwanda and Kenya have taken an even more aggressive stance; they banned all plastic bags. While they are not the only countries to have done so, they certainly seem to be the most militant about it. In Kenya, where the ban came into effect last year. fines for those selling, manufacturing or even using a plastic bag can go up to 40,000 dollars or 4 years in jail.

Rwanda’s plastic ban has even been in effect since 2008, so the people there have had more time to accommodate for it, although reports of plastic-bag smugglers have risen to the surface, with women crossing the borders with bags taped to their arms and legs.

The tropical island of Dominica was recently in the news because it will ban all single-use plastics and Styrofoam, Western countries are slowly catching up, with mostly just partial bans on a few products, but with such great examples to lead the way, how can they fail to follow?  Bans and taxes on plastic items are invariably successful, with less litter on the streets, cleaner waterways and less animals found with plastic in their stomachs, such results cannot be ignored.

Back to fantastic

With scientific evidence to back it up, more and more people realize that what happens in the ocean is no longer a far-off horror story, it already is affecting our lives. Whether it’s a fisherman picking up more trash than fish, a tourist wading through a mountain of plastic to get to the shoreline on their holiday destination, or a family ingesting plastic particles through the meal on their plate, everyone is a part of the problem and a part of the solution. The realization is setting in, the solutions are there, and new ones are being thought up every day. Now we just need to embrace them, and it won’t be long before we all live in a world where plastic is considered too valuable to waste.

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This post is also available in: Dutch