Single-use plastic is everywhere. In many places in the world, it's nearly impossible to walk around outside for a few minutes without encountering an assemblage of cast-off plastic bags, bottles, flatware and other single-use detritus. None of these items are quick to decompose — a plastic bag takes up to 20 years to break down, while a plastic bottle might take up to 450 years. Let that sink in.
And of course, if you're seeing plastic on the street in a city like Amsterdam, it's likely that bottle or takeout container will end up in a canal, and ultimately the ocean, where it's not up to anything good. One thing we can do to protect the health of marine ecosystems is to keep plastics out of the terrestrial waterways that lead to the oceans in the first place.
Plastic Whale is a plastic fishing company whose mission is to make the world's waters plastic-free and create value from plastic waste. This Amsterdam-based company was started in 2011 with a mission not only to remove single-use plastic out of canals in Amsterdam and in the Rotterdam harbor, but to turn that trash into useful items. Plastic bottles are turned into foam plates to build their boats, and PET felt to make furniture — boardroom tables, chairs, lamps and acoustic panels for offices.
Plastic Whale's business model is fascinating: Groups of people — corporate groups, tourists, school groups or families looking for an interesting way to spend an afternoon — pay a fee for Plastic Whale to take them "plastic fishing." It goes a little something like this: A Plastic Whale guide takes you and your friends, family or co-workers — all suited up in life jackets for those that want them and armed with fishing nets — out on the Amsterdam canals in one of their boats, made entirely of Amsterdam canal plastic. The skipper points out the sights (in either Dutch or English) while steering the boat around the canal and sidling up to plastic waste bobbing along in the water, which you and your friends scoop up in your nets.
“A plastic fishing trip for tourists costs 25 euros (around $26.85) per person. As a company we are financially self-sustaining; we are not dependent of any subsidies,” said Smit. “We have four main sources of income: company sponsorships, company plastic fishing events and exploitation of the boats (tourists and private boat rentals). Lastly, we give a lot of presentations about the way we created a fast growing social enterprise from scratch.”
According to the latest stats posted on the company website, in 2019, Plastic Whale's 13 boats (11 in Amsterdam and 2 in Rotterdam) took nearly 18,000 people plastic fishing in the canals of the two cities, hauling in a catch of around 40,500 PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles, and many times that volume in other waste.
To book a tour with Plastic Whale, go to https://plasticwhale.com/booking/ and sign up to do your part in keeping garbage out of our oceans.