Frequently asked questions
How did the foundation get the idea to build floating islands?
The project is an initiative of the Recycled Island Foundation, a multidisciplinary organization where all the members want to fight plastic pollution. We looked for a local approach to address this issue, considering the fact that most of the plastics in our oceans actually end up there via rivers. We found the potential to retrieve plastics from our own local river the New Meuse, and in this way we can prevent these plastics from entering the sea. Retrieving marine litter in rivers has shown to be much easier than trying to take plastics from the open sea or even the ocean. Plastics are now retrieved close to the source, where also the quality of the material is mostly still good enough for recycling.
To give an extra stimulant in retrieving the plastics and to make sure it’s not littered again, we explored the recycling potential. We can now recycle the plastics that we take from the river into the building blocks of our floating park. Floating parks are a plus for cities, but also improve the ecosystem in the harbour simply by adding new floating vegetation.
Why do you retrieve plastic litter in rivers?
Plastic litter is a structural problem in open waters. Plastic pollutes our seas and oceans and has a direct and deadly effect on marine life. Thousands of birds, seals, turtles, whales and other marine animals are killed every year after ingesting plastic or getting strangled in it. With the plastics breaking down into smaller particles, it also enters the human food chain. 80-95% of the plastics in the ocean ends up there via rivers, where it becomes part of the worldwide pollution. In many cities, open water is the lowest point, resulting in the unfortunate accumulation of litter in our rivers. When we retrieve the plastics directly in our cities and ports, we actively prevent the further growth of the plastic soup in our seas and oceans.
How did you develop the Litter Traps?
We developed three passive Litter Traps in Rotterdam to efficiently collect plastic from the New Meuse (Nieuwe Maas). During a trail period of 1,5 years, the Litter Traps were tested, monitored and optimized. This resulted in a good working system, that catches plastics efficiently even with heavy ship traffic, tidal changes and different wind directions. The Litter Traps catch the plastics by using the wind and the existing current of the river, and keep the plastics inside even when the direction of the current turns.
Do you also catch birds or fish in your Litter Traps?
So far, we didn’t catch any living fish or birds. Fish can swim in and out of the Litter Traps and birds cannot get stuck, because the top of the Litter Trap is open. Birds can rest on the Litter Trap and easily fly away. We already had a bird nest on one of the Litter Traps.
Is there any risk of the Recycled Park releasing micro-plastics?
With the development of our Recycled Park, we carefully studied any negative impact it might have on the environment. We studied this in collaboration with the Wageningen University and our recycling partners.
As main building material for our Recycled Park, we have chosen High-density polyethylene (HDPE). This material is recycled under very high pressure to create the high density material. HDPE is very resistant to chemicals and water. To improve its UV-resistance, carbon is added. This together makes the HDPE a durable material with a long life span (up to fifty years). The HDPE is extruded to 18mm thick plates from which we construct our modular elements. Also in the design and construction of the park, we considered the environmental impact. The individual modular blocks are connected with stainless steel bolts attached to each other to create a stiff connection without any friction. The whole floating park moves as one. Because of the lack of friction, no micro plastics are expected to come from the park structure.
The HDPE structure shields the other plastics that are used in the realization. The other elements are protected from friction and impact to also prevent any micro plastics run off.
The Recycled Park has an expected life span of about fifty years. When any eventual wear and tear takes place, the HDPE can be recycled into new products, again by its purity.
Recycled Park is our first large scale recycled plastic product. The project is very suitable for the harbour situation in Rotterdam. CLEAR RIVERS is designing new recycled plastic products with new recycling techniques. These products will be suitable for international locations. Each process and product is carefully taken into consideration for its positive impact on the environment.
What chemicals did you add in the recycling process?
No chemicals are added in the recycling process. Only carbon is added to make it UV resistant. We "upcycle" the plastics to a durable material with a very high density and a very smooth surface by melting and pressing the plastics together. No micro-plastics come from this new strong material. The project has an expected life span of about fifty years and can be recycled again into new valuable products.
What are the plans for the future?
With the launch of the passive Litter Traps and the first 140m2 of floating park, the international interest is growing.
In Ambon (Indonesia) we’ve already placed three Litter Traps. In Brussels (Belgium) we implemented the first Litter Trap, and in Rotterdam the first three. We’re proposing Litter Traps in multiple heavily locations, such as Vietnam, Hungary, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, etc.
So far, we created the first 140m2 of Recycled Park. We’re still discussing with our partners how much further the park in Rotterdam can grow. At the same time, the national and international interest for the park is growing and there are a lot of locations that have the same issues as Rotterdam. We want to retrieve litter in as much rivers as possible.
Besides the park, we’re also looking at other techniques and products that can be created from the plastics we retrieve. As an example, we also 3D-printed outdoor sofas with recycled plastics and we’re turning plastic litter into a valuable building materials for housing.