Updated: Jan 20
At Seaside Sustainability, we enthusiastically embrace our role in maintaining healthy waterways. We are not the only ones working to keep our oceans clean, though. In particular, European cities are finding innovative ways to keep their waterways free of debris that could inspire future sustainable developments.
Amsterdam, a city in the Netherlands on the coast of the North Sea, is the paragon of a sustainable city. Driven by a love of doughnuts--as we all are--Amsterdam has adopted a vision they call the “Amsterdam City Doughnut,” which establishes a boundary of sustainable human existence. But while the city’s emission-reducing initiatives are exceptional, its ocean waste strategies are what interest us. In response to Amsterdam’s waste problem, the city government aims to develop a circular economy, in which they study the flow process of materials to reduce the introduction of “new raw material” into the economic system. The key to a circular economy is recycling; by reusing raw materials, Amsterdam reduces waste and further exploitation of natural resources. And they won’t stop at city boundaries. Amsterdam’s partnership with the Dutch government and the European Union aims to create an international environmental movement to reduce waste everywhere and create a sustainable global circular economy.
In the meantime, pollution is inevitable. That’s why Amsterdam has developed innovative approaches to manage it. Enter “waste-to-energy plants,” which burn municipal waste for city heat and electricity. This solution keeps trash out of landfills and the ocean, and filters the byproducts for low-emission power. The plants filter out emissions from the burning, too, cutting air pollution that would otherwise pour from landfills.
What of the trash that evades the earnest hands of recycling programs? Rivers transport around 4 million metric tonnes of plastic to the world’s oceans each year, and Amsterdam is no exception. In fact, Amsterdam, famed for its historical 100 kilometers of canals, is an area of great concern. That’s why the wily Dutch have instituted several measures to catch waste in the rivers before it escapes into the North Sea, including designated trash boats trolling the canals for surface waste.
While the trash trollers clean only the surface of the canals, bubble barriers are the more complete waste wardens. Formed by pumping air through perforated tubes laid diagonally across the canal beds, these bubble barriers span the waterways, catching plastic waste of all sizes and at every level of the flow and directing it to a collector. The bubbles don’t impede boats or wildlife in the process, making them the epitome of sustainable and non-intrusive waste collection.
In an approach closely related to Seaside Sustainability, a local organization called Plastic Whale enlists students, locals, tourists, and companies to go “fishing” for plastic waste in the canals. Public involvement in the cause both reduces waste and educates participants about the causes and effects of pollution. Education is key to Seaside Sustainability’s mission to protect and restore waterways; Plastic Whale embraces the same value.
Solving the pervasive plastic waste problem must involve outside-the-box solutions. The Netherlands is clearly different from the United States, and not all of its approaches would work here--maybe none of them would. But something needs to change if we are to reduce our plastic impact on our oceans, and we can always learn something from our neighbors. Seaside Sustainability is doing its part to reduce society’s impact on our oceans, and hopefully others in our country can find the inspiration to create even more solutions for a sustainable future.