Coming clean: Sandra is angry, frustrated and disappointed but got it together again

img_0805Originally we wanted to reveal our cliffhanger from the previous blog today, in a festive manner. But because of the political debate on a deposit scheme in our Dutch Lower House om Thursday 15 March I felt a need to get something else off my chest.

I have always had a lot of confidence in the government and I scoffed people a bit when they criticized politicians. In our home, the angry citizen is often paraphrased with: “Yes, yes, from our taxes!” And then we laugh happily again.

But since last week I have been looking at politics differently.

We have been working on clearing litter for a little over three months now, trying to light others or at least making the problem more aware. I am amazed at my own drive to be busy with this. Every day I pick up something and at least once a week I fill a whole bag with junk from the neighborhood. I read a lot about it, with @plasticcleanup we’re active on social media and try to do something about the litter in a positive way.

But then, then Secretary of State Stientje van Veldhoven was on the news show Brandpunt and told us that until 2021 she will give the business community the chance  to reach the target of 70 – 90% less plastic bottles. If they don’t reach that target a deposit scheme will be set up. She would start the next Monday with legislation in case the business does not reach this target. ‘One way or another, we’ll make it happen’ was her repetitive mantra. Cans turned out to no longer matter in her proposal.
Thanks to the tweets from the Afvaladvocaat I learnt that the debat in the Lower House last Thursday more or less ended in this proposal. I have no words for the powerlessness and desperation that I feel because of this. Over 80% of the Dutch are in favour of a deposit scheme. A proven effective measure. Few proposals in politics can rely on so much support from the voters. Then why wait?

The Secretary of State also has no idea how the business will tackle this. In Brandpunt she was talking about some extra trash cans and a bit more sweeping. During the debate she also admitted that she had no idea but that she would certainly ask for a plan of approach. Unbelievable!

Suppose there was a desire to levy a higher tax on bonuses. And the responsible minister says: okay, excellent plan, really important that we are going to do this. But first let’s give them the chance to pay that extra tax. If that fails in three years, I will make sure that a law is in place to arrange it. A new cabinet can then see what they will do with it. You know what, I’m going to start Monday!

Despite this great frustration, I refuse to become an old nag.. I keep clearing litter with the thought that every little bit helps. But I understand very well that all those thousands and thousands of volunteer litterpickers are demotivated. Buck up people, if it does not happen that one way, or the other way, we just take the way straight towards our goal!

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Coming clean: TGI-Fridays lends a hand (including cliffhanger!)

Friday, March 9 we had another mission: we started collecting litter with 2 employees of TGI-Fridays. Why? You can read the extended version here, the ultra-short summary here: I picked up 267 roaming flyers from them and now they came to help us clean up.

We had agreed to meet in pavilion pOp, a temporary building on the Westplein next to the crime scene: the bicycle shed where the flyers of TGI Fridays had been spread everywhere.

We had no idea who to expect: would it be two trainees to do this job or perhaps those who had posted the flyers to all the bicycles? In any case, we did not expect it to be Gert and Robert! Two top managers of TGI Fridays. We thought they were being good sports that they had taken up the gauntlet, but we found it even sportier that they had sent their very best employees. Armed with garbage bags, grabbers and even a landing net we started in the bicycle shed where their well-known flyers were still lying. But there was a lot more than those flyers.
Within 10 minutes we had four garbage bags filled with the usual suspects: cans, plastic bottles, Antaflu wraps, lots of cigarette butts etc. Then we walked through the Leidsekade and the Vleutenseweg back to Paviljoen pOp. A walk that would normally take you a quarter of an hour, but when you also collect litter, that quickly becomes three quarters of an hour. At that time we got to know each other a little better and Gert and Robert saw with their own eyes that all that litter is quite a big problem. If you do not pay attention, you do not see immediately how much litter is on the street. But once you pay attention, you can not unsee it anymore. We see that time and time again.

Our landing net was not prepared fot this!

Once returned to Paviljoen pOp we talked some more and made this beautiful final photo that will probably get a place of honor in the first Dutch branch of TGI-Fridays!

Four happy faces with 8 full garbage bags

To conclude, we have a an exciting cliffhanger …  because what did these men bring with them? You will read it soon on this blog!

Thanks to Marij from Paviljoen pOp for being such a nice and welcoming host and of course thanks to Gert and Robert!

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Hella finds … visibility is important!

Is it worth cleaning up the in the neighborhood?

Except for the missions I gave Sandra for her birthday (check the blog The First Step), there are also other moments where we are actively cleaning up litter. Just because the frustration is great when we walk somewhere and see so much junk. And also because of the the satisfaction afterwards!
Sometimes we deliberately make a detour in the neighborhood, armed with garbage bags, gloves and grabbers. We live in a decent, mixed neighborhood: some 70s low-rise and 30 single-family homes. There are some schools, more and more trendy coffeeshops and dining places, and a small park. The park near our house is quite a nice park with a playground, rose garden, football field and even a tabletennis table.

3 zakken zwerfvuil in 1 uur
The only thing that is left is to throw away these 3 bags!

Recently we picked up litter in the park for an hour and came home with 2 full trash bags and 1 found (!) empty shopping bag that we effortlessly also filled with junk.
So … if you measure the cleanliness of the neighborhood to the amount of picked up litter (the beer cans, the cigarette butts, the paper tissues, drinks and so on), then suddenly  I’m not so convinced that I’m living in a decent neighborhood.

What does science say?

I somewhat suspected that a clean environment encourages people to keep the environment clean, but does it really help? Is that really really scientifically proven?
Yes it helps; environmental psychologist Kees Keizer (University of Groningen) proved this in various experiments. More on his research here, below two of his findings.

  1. A clean environment not only makes people less inclined to throw litter on the street, it also positively impacts the influence of other norms and rules on behaviour. Experiments show that the presence of litter (disorder) increases the chance that others throw their litter in the streets as well, and decreases the helpfulness of people and kindness to others. Besides the positive effect of cleaning the street in general, it is proven that the visible act of cleaning up has an extra positive effect on the behaviour of citizens.

  2. What is true for disorder is also true for order:  observing someone who clearly respects a norm encourages to other norm-conforming behaviour. It turned out that the amount of people who helped someone who had dropped their shopping nearly doubled if the have seen someone clean the pavement just before.

Is the park lastingly cleaner?

That is too early to say. The mothers on the playground have so far been friendly but say or do nothing at that moment (but maybe I planted a seed in their minds?). Promising was a boy who came to ask what I was doing. He nodded in understanding on my answer that I clean it up because that junk does not belong there. Next time I will invite him on the spot to pick up some (remember to bring extra gloves!). And Sandra met a woman who took  the trouble to say that she liked what we are doing and even offered to help next time.

Time will tell if there is indeed less litter left behind in the park. But we will continue to be strengthened by science! The research of Kees Keizer learned me that when people see you clean up, chances are that they will start doing it themselves as well. And not only that, they become more helpful anyway. So, cleaning up litter is not only a super thing to do for the environment but also drive a more kind and more social environment. Who can argue with that?!

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Coming clean: TGI Fridays

A couple of times a week I park my bike in the bicycle shed on the Westplein in Utrecht. A not so cozy square because of the many traffic but it is made more fun and greener with unrelenting enthusiasm by the people of  Paviljoen Pop.

An impression of the mess.

Last week I once again parked my bike and saw a tsunami of junk. It turned out to be an action of the fast food chain TGI-Fridays who wanted to recruit staff in this fun way for their soon to be opened restaurant on nearby Stationsplein.

Apparently there is little enthusiasm to work here and regular ways of recruiting staff (an advertisement or employment agency) do not yield anything. Or perhaps there is a completely different reason that is overlooked.

Probably, there has been a department that has devised to tackle it in this way. Perhaps it was preceded by brainstorming session, with yellow post-its and out of the box thinking.

TGI Fridays
Do you believe this is a winning action?

Anyway, the outcome was  that there is a label on all bicycles on the Westplein with this phrase : Do you believe in a dream job at first sight?

If they had thought about it a little bit longer, they might have come to the conclusion that about 100% of the bike owners do not need this label. And that there are only a few people who put it in their pocket to throw away at home. Practice shows that most people just throw it on the ground, especially if there are already a few hundred.

I tweeted a friendly request to TGI Fridays to clean up their mess. But no reaction. The day after, I returned from work a bit earlier and decided to pick up as many labels as possible.


There were 267. This time I have also tweeted about it, now with the question to TGI-Fridays to come with us to clean up some time in return. I also asked the municipality of Utrecht, per tweet, whether companies are allowed to distribute so much junk. It is still not entirely clear to me how it is, but apparently it was passed on to the licensing department.

Until now there is no reaction from TGI Fridays but you are the second person to hear when in their infinite wisdom they decide to come with us . I can recommend it anyway because it is super fun with us!

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TGI Fridays has turned out to be a good sport: they reached out to DeGroteSchoonmaak the day after the second tweet and sincerely apoligized. Also, they have committed to have 2 employees help us cleanup for an afternoon. We are very happy about that and plan to do this very soon!

Coming clean: looking for tips!

img_0209Since my birthday there have been three official missions but between these we have not been idle. We (read: Hella) have spent hours in getting an understanding of the WordPress world. With good results, because we now have all kinds of fancy features on this site including an English version! Google translate has been able to translate all blogs with Hella’s expert help so now we can have our global breakthrough. Furthermore, a Twitter account has become available recently: @plasticcleanup (the twitter account @degroteschoomaak was already given to a certain Mister Muscle). Even on LinkedIn we have some traffic going on with our blog.

As we become more and more immersed in the plastic waste issue, we noticed that we are not alone. There are already many people who clean up litter, even in our own environment. And I really believe that it works as an environmentally-friendly oil spill: more and more people are joining various cleaning up projects.

Once you have an eye for it, you can’t not see it anymore. Double denials are always difficult, but even I understand this one. Since we started collecting, I see plastic and other waste everywhere. Sometimes it leaves me with a practical challenge. For instance, if I go shopping and I see all sorts of junk lying on the street, I prefer not to dirty my hands. And if I start picking up trash, then it usually does not stop with 1 piece. And not even with 2, so the following problem arises: where do you keep it? Preferably not in the shopping bag. So far the solution was: look for a plastic bag, because where there is waste, you usually also find plastic bags. However, I am very curious how other litterpickers  solve this.
I saw Peter Smith (Stichting Klean), while riding his bike, smoothly grab waste with his waste grabber and elegantly throwing it into his bicycle basket. If you can pick up even cigarette butts so easily and with so much precision, you probably got a lot of watches out of the claw machine. As of yet, this is still far out of reach for us. Therefore we are welcoming tips to deal with this challenge!

Saturday 18 Feruary we will go trash beachcombing again! With a burlap sack.

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Schone zaken: tips gezocht!

img_0209Sinds mijn verjaardag zijn er drie officiële missies geweest maar ondertussen hebben we natuurlijk niet stilgezeten. We (lees: Hella) heeft zich urenlang bekwaamd in het doorgronden van de WordPresswereld. Met resultaat, want we hebben nu allerlei fancy features op deze site waaronder een heuse Engelse versie! Google translate heeft met de deskundige hulp van Hella alle blogs kunnen vertalen zodat we nu ook global kunnen doorbreken. Verder is er sinds kort een Twitter-account: @plasticcleanup (het account degroteschoonmaak was al weggegeven aan de huishoudservice van Miep Kraak). En ook op LinkedIn is er al een hoop reuring.

Nu we ons meer en meer verdiepen in het plastic afval, valt ons op dat we niet alleen zijn. Er zijn, ook in onze eigen omgeving, al veel mensen die zwerfafval ruimen. En ik geloof echt dat het als een milieuvriendelijke olievlek werkt: er sluiten zich steeds meer mensen aan bij allerlei schoonmaakprojecten.

Als je er eenmaal oog voor hebt, kan je het niet meer niet zien. Dubbele ontkenningen zijn altijd lastig maar deze begrijp ik zelfs. Sinds we zijn begonnen met rapen zie ik overal plastic en ander afval. Dat geeft soms ook een praktisch probleem. Want als ik net boodschappen ga doen en ik zie allerhande troep op straat liggen, wil ik liever geen vieze handen. En als ik dan toch begin met rapen, dan blijft het meestal niet bij 1 stuk. En ook niet bij 2, dus dan dient zich het volgende probleem aan: waar laat je het? Bij voorkeur niet in de boodschappentas. Tot nu toe was de oplossing: op zoek gaan naar een plastic zak, want waar afval is, vind je meestal ook wel plastic zakken. Maar ik ben heel benieuwd hoe andere zwerfafvalrapers dit oplossen. Ik zag dat Peter Smith van de Stichting Klean jaloersmakend soepeltjes met zijn grijper het afval in zijn fietsmandje gooit. Iemand die met zo veel precisie en gemak zelfs peuken oppikt, heeft vroeger waarschijnlijk een hoop horloges uit de grijpmachine gehaald. Maar voor ons is deze manier voorlopig nog buiten bereik. We houden ons dus aanbevolen voor goeie tips!

Zaterdag 18 februari gaan we weer grondstofjutten op het strand! Met een juten tas.

Hella finds …plastic waste photo art

The moment I started looking into what is being done worldwide to bring up the plastic soup issue, I came across a lot of wretched, horrifying examples of roaming plastic on the beach, in the water, in forests, in the streets and in the …. well everywhere actually.

Fortunately, there are many inspiring people with great ideas and actions that want to bring this plastic misery to our attention. Really, there are many! In all sizes and types. I find it incredible and incredibly moving to see young children stand up as activists, such as the nearly 10-year-old Dutch Lilly and 7- year-old ‘The Little Collector‘. In the near future, I  am definitely spending a whole blog on these amazing young activists.

Horror and aesthetics

The ‘misery-beauty’ combination was best expressed for me in a number of photography projects. Aesthetically beautiful photos, which on closer inspection are also pretty depressing. And then become a motivation for you to start to do at least SOMETHING about the misery yourself. I think that this plastic waste art is a great driver for awareness and change.

  1. Found in Nature, by Barry Rosenthal
    Barry collects litter around the New York Harbor area, and arranges the objects by color, type and/or theme. In the 5 minute video below you see how and why he does that.
  2. Plastic Ocean, by Thirza Schaap
    Thirza makes photos of plastic on a pastel-colored background. In an interview with the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant (30-9-2017) she said: “I show the beauty of something terribly sad, those beautiful colors of the plastic. Because all the beautiful creatures in the sea are in our mess.”
  3. Where, by Mandy Barker
    The remnants of looted balloons simply return to earth and into the sea. Mandy collected many pieces of balloons on beaches around the world. Her motivation? Watch the video in which she tells about the project Hong Kong Soup.
  4. Washed up, van Alejandro Durán
    Alejandro photographs the plastic waste as an integration in nature, as a forest, as rivers or fruit. He did so in the Mexican nature reserve Sian Ka’an.

I’m curious what you think (of this)! Please let us know in the comments if you too found beautiful plastic waste art.

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