On some European waterways a fleet of kayaks has been fitted with an unusual accessory… a trash can. These bright green boats are free to rent, but volunteers are required to work for their trip by collecting floating waste.
The initiative is the brainchild of GreenKayak, a Denmark-based environmental not-for-profit with a mission to clean up the continent’s canals, rivers and lakes.
Volunteers can take to the water in one of the project’s colourful two-person kayaks, equipped with paddles, life vests and trash pickers. While enjoying the countryside, kayakers can pluck garbage from the water and fill the onboard trash can.
Making a splash
Inspiration for the project came as its founders sat on a canal bank eating pizza, watching out-of-reach debris float by. Jumping into the water fully clothed seemed an unlikely long-term solution so they settled on a more enterprising way to reach the waste.
“You can’t take your shirt off and jump in, but you can get in a GreenKayak and make an impact,” Tobias Weber-Andersen, one of the project’s founders, told USA Today.
What is the World Economic Forum doing about ending plastic pollution?
More than 90% of plastic is never recycled, and a whopping 8 million metric tons of plastic waste are dumped into the oceans annually. At this rate, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050.
The World Economic Forum has played a crucial role in connecting TerraCycle, a global waste management and recycling company, with logistics giant UPS and some of the world’s leading retailers and consumer goods companies (including Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Carrefour, Tesco, Mondelēz, PepsiCo, Danone, Mars, Nestlé and Unilever) to develop and pilot a revolutionary zero-waste e-commerce system called Loop.
Loop promotes responsible consumption and eliminates waste by introducing a new way for consumers to purchase, enjoy and recycle their favorite products. Instead of relying on single-use packaging, it delivers products to consumers’ doorsteps in durable packaging that is collected, cleaned, refilled and reused, sometimes more than 100 times.
The Forum is helping the Loop Alliance bring the Loop model to cities around the world. Read more in our Impact Story.
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Although still in its infancy, the scheme aims to address a growing global challenge. According to UN Environment figures, about 13 million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the world’s oceans each year, the majority of it fed along rivers from land-based sources. This pollution damages marine life, reduces biodiversity and can potentially harm human health.
A study of Europe’s freshwater environments by Earthwatch found almost 38% of waste in our waterways consists of consumer-related plastic items, such as drink bottles, food wrappers and cotton buds. Other waste largely consisted of non-plastic items, unidentified plastic pieces, or industrial, agricultural or fishing-related waste.
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As the above chart shows, five of the top 10 most prevalently discarded consumer-related plastic items are linked to food. The European Parliament has approved a ban on single-use plastics like straws, shopping bags and cotton buds, which will come into force by 2021.
Using kayaks to clean up waterways is helping to remove some of this waste before it can reach the oceans. Since the initiative launched in 2017, volunteers have collected more than 10,000 kilograms of floating waste from Europe’s waterways and the project is growing.
From the first trash collections in Copenhagen and Aarhus, the project has spread to more locations in Denmark, with clean-up flotillas also available in Ireland, Norway and Germany.
Such environmental initiatives help raise awareness of the growing waste problem, particularly discarded plastics, and focus attention on the need to respect our marine environments.