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World's First Plastic Fishing Company Wants to Rid the Oceans of Plastic Pollution
The premise behind the Amsterdam-based venture Plastic Whale is beautifully simple. First, the company fishes out plastic bottles and other debris from the city's numerous canals. Second, when enough bottles are collected, the plastic is transformed into material to make a boat. Third, the new boat is used to fish for more plastic bottles—to make more boats. Genius.
Plastic Whale captures debris and plastic waste from Amsterdam's many canals. Thousands of discarded plastic bottles are repurposed into building materials for the company's boats and even bottle caps are used to create a colorful mosaic for the boat's floor. The company then uses the boats to fish for more trash to make more boats. Photo credit: Facebook/courtesy photos
The goal of Plastic Whale—which describes itself as the world's first plastic fishing company—is to rid the world's waters of plastic pollution. With an estimated 8 million tons of plastic trash entering our waterways annually, Plastic Whale is going to need a lot of boats.
Founder and captain Marius Smit, however, is up for the ambitious task. He tells EcoWatch that he not only envisions a world of plastic-free waters but also a world where people understand that everyday trash, such as plastic bottles, can be transformed into "a valuable raw material."
Since its 2010 launch, the company has fished more than 50,000 plastic bottles and more than 10,000 kilos of various waste from the canals of Amsterdam, according to Smit.
Today, the company offers businesses and individuals plastic fishing tours on its total fleet of seven boats, all made from plastic bottles. One of its newest boats—created in partnership with Interface, the world's largest carpet tile manufacturer—is made from more than 7,000 plastic bottles. As it turns out, the light and buoyant plastic from PET bottles make great boat building blocks.
Smit took the time to answer a few of EcoWatch's questions via email:
EcoWatch: Besides boats, what else does your company do with the captured trash?
Smit: All our boats are made from recycled Amsterdam canal plastic (plastic we fished from our canals). We use the bottle caps to create beautiful mosaics on the floors of our boats. Also, we started a new company WasteBoards, which makes unique skateboards from bottle caps.
EcoWatch: What is the most important thing you tell your Plastic Whale boat riders?
Smit: Obviously we tell them about the problem of plastic soup. But another important issue we tell them is that plastic should not be regarded as valueless waste, but as valuable raw material. We do this by creating beautiful design boats and unique skateboards; products that amaze and appeal to people. The root of the problem, as we see it, is that people regard plastic as a disposable. We try to change people's perceptions.
EcoWatch: Have you seen a reduction in plastic waste or other debris in the waters?
Smit: It is quite hard to say, because the problem of plastic waste is quite enormous and we have more than 100 kilometers of canals in Amsterdam. Some people say that since we exist the problem has diminished, but I will not claim that. However, we can show the heaps of waste that we have fished from the canals. Without us, a large part would have ended up at sea.
EcoWatch: What inspired you to launch Plastic Whale?
Smit: Twelve years ago I was traveling the world for a year with my girlfriend. We visited beautiful and remote places. And everywhere we came, we saw plastic waste. One day we were staying on a pristine little beach on the North side of Borneo, near Kota Kinabalu. The weather was bad with a lot of on-land wind. When we arrived at the beach it was flooded with plastic debris. I was in shock, because North of Borneo there is nothing but sea for hundreds of miles. That's when I was first introduced to the plastic soup phenomenon. And I decided that I wanted to do something about it.
When I came home, however, I got frustrated because I did not know where and how to start, because I was a loner. After a few years social media came up. All of a sudden I could connect with people all over the planet with the same mission, ideas or frustration as mine. I was inspired by JFK's 1961 speech during which he portrayed a man on the moon, which had to be there before the end of the decade. At the time this challenge was impossible but relevant. And mostly, the clear vision of a man standing on the moon excited people. That combination of factors created cohesion and innovative spur. I came to the conclusion that today, because of social media, you don't have to be called JFK anymore to create a following, but you have to create your own "man on the moon."
So in 2011 I published my "man on the moon" via social media: "I want to build a boat made from plastic waste, yet I have never driven a boat let alone built one. So please help me!" It worked. Within weeks I was traveling through Holland to talk to people and organizations who wanted to help me.
Two years ago we presented our first boat (made from recycled Amsterdam Canal Plastic) and now we have a fleet of seven boats. We are a fast-growing company: the first professional plastic fishing company in the world.
Captain Marius Smit (center) and his Plastic Whale team.
EcoWatch: Why is fighting plastic waste important to you? What is your ultimate goal with the company?
Smit: Our ultimate goal is to make the world's waters plastic-free. We won't claim that we will just achieve that by ourselves, because the problem is simply to huge and complex. But we do want to make a positive contribution towards the solution. Before I started Plastic Whale I had a marketing position, which meant, in my view, getting people to buy things they really didn't need. During my travels I decided that I wanted to get out of the office, to keep on traveling, leading an adventurous life and contributing something concrete and positive to the world. When I encountered the problem of plastic soup I realized that I had to do something about it. Now I have managed to create a company and a living for my colleagues and myself whilst we add something positive to the world.
Learn more about the company and how their boats are manufactured in the video below.
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Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
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A warm day in winter used to be a rare and uplifting relief.
Now such days are routine reminders of climate change – all the more foreboding when they coincide with news stories about unprecedented wildfires, record-breaking "rain bombs," or the accelerated melting of polar ice sheets.
Where, then, can one turn for hope in these dark months of the year?