Armed with fishing nets and thick gloves, a small group of people are busy on one of the many boats crisscrossing the famous Canals of Amsterdam, scrutinizing their murky waters under a scorching sun. These passengers have one goal: to recover as much Plastic waste as possible during a two-hour boat trip to one of the city’s major tourist attractions, some of which are listed as World Heritage by UNESCO.
In the midst of a boom in eco-friendly tourism, these new-style cruises by the Dutch company Plastic Whale are enjoying growing success. In 2018, nearly 12,000 people participated. There will be more this year, says Plastic Whale founder Marius Smit.
Dreaming of waters free of all waste, Smit created his company eight years ago with the desire to generate an “economic value” from the plastic collected. Plastic bottles are separated from other waste to serve as a raw material for the construction of office furniture and boats, which are themselves used for canal towers. “It’s a whole new way to visit Amsterdam,” said Smit.
“You are on the beautiful canals of Amsterdam on a beautiful boat but at the same time, you bring something positive to the canals and the city because you make them cleaner.”
That morning, seven of them are hugging Plastic Whale’s little green apple boat. Angela Katz, an Australian who has been living in Amsterdam for a little over a year, is taking part in the tour for the second time, after hearing about it on Facebook.
“It’s amazing how much waste there is in all channels,” says the 51-year-old graphic designer, net in hand.
“The Netherlands has the image of being very eco-friendly and environmentally friendly, so it’s surprising the canals are so polluted,” says Angela Katz, who brings a couple of friends and their three children to Amsterdam with her husband. Guy O’Loughnane, from Vancouver, Canada, can not believe how much “things have not been used,” with many bottles still closed.
Last year, the harvest of these thousands of “fishermen” allowed Plastic Whale to collect more than 46,000 plastic bottles, in addition to many other types of waste. “For every bag of plastic bottles that we take out of the canals, we get two to three bags of other kinds of substances,” comments Smit.
It is difficult to estimate the exact amount of plastic in the water of the channels. Every year, millions of tons of plastic are dumped at sea.
18 million visitors a year
“The tourists are not paying attention,” sighs Angela Katz in front of the pile of garbage picked up. But for Marius Smit, the tourists are not the only ones responsible: the pollution of the canals is also the fact of some “negligent” inhabitants.
“It’s a combination of factors,” he says. Due to tourism, public bins fill up very quickly. “There is a lot of trash in the streets quickly. Then it starts to rain or the wind begins to blow and it goes into the channels,” says Marius Smit.
The Dutch capital is a victim of its success : some 18 million people visited Amsterdam in 2018, more than the total population of the Netherlands. Plastic Whale’s towers are part of a catalog launched recently by the city’s mayor, which has listed a list of original activities in the hope of regulating the flow of tourists flooding the most iconic sites.