- reading time 8 minutes -
By Laura Nederkorn
STRANDET's mission is to keep beaches along the West Coast free of plastic and focus on plastic pollution both locally and globally. Founder Jens tells us how STRANDET goes about it, the motivations behind it and how we can all contribute to a cleaner environment.
Nice to meet you Jens, please introduce yourself.
Hi, I am Jens Wilhelm - one half of STRANDET. We are a small environmental company that opened back in 2018. Well, that’s when we opened our physical workspace here I Vorupør. The company consists of me and my work partner Julie – we are the founders. We also have two part-time employees who help us with beach cleans and other things like that.
How did you come up with the idea for STRANDET?
Julie had the idea originally. She was working in Rwanda when they initiated the ban on all single use plastic and started to do national cleanup days. Inspired, she came back to Denmark and focused on waste, plastic and environment. She started out by doing beach cleans with an organisation called “Plastic Change”. There aim was to collect plastic and recycle them on a bigger scale – but unfortunately that didn’t happen, due to various reasons. Julie began to wonder, “Could we just do this on our own? Can we just go the beach, pick up plastic and recycle it into new things?” That’s kind of the basis for the whole idea: show people that we can recycle plastic pollution on a small, easy scale, right where we live.
What is your role at Strandet?
We both pretty much do everything! That’s the thing about having a small company, you end up doing it all!
So true! Can you tell me a bit more about STRANDET?
We are a small environmental company. We are a company, rather than an NGO, because we want to show others that it’s possible to create a business model around collecting and recycling ocean plastic. We don’t want to be dependent on funding.
The basis for the company can be divided into four areas:
Collecting and recycling: beach cleans. We do one community beach clean every month. Anyone can show up and do as much as they feel like. Besides that we do beach cleans independently, and several clean ups with schools. The latter is important to show the younger generation the plastic pollution problem we face along the west coast. And, of course, we are removing as much trash as possible. Some of that waste we recycle, primarily fish boxes, as that’s always the same type of plastic. We collect the fish boxes, clean, and shred them, then recycle the plastic into different products. We make products for ourselves and others.
Education: for schools, high school students, companies… They come here, listen and learn through a presentation, and then go to the beach and do a litter pick and clean up.
Consulting work for companies: footprint analysis, CO2 calculations, waste management systems… For example, right now we are working with a local festival and are helping them to manage their waste through considering what materials they will use and how they will communicate with staff and festival-goers about waste management.
Café and workspace: we also run a cafe and workspace for others to enjoy, utilise and learn.
Cool! So what would you say is the overall intention of STRANDET?
We want to put focus on a global issue - the waste in our nature - but in a local context. What we experienced when we started out was that everyone sees the issue as something that is present in developing countries. For example they think the problem is in India, Indonesia, China – all those places. But we want to show everyone that it’s also a big issue along the European coastline and that the impression we have in Europe is wrong. We are a big part of the problem and the issue is way bigger than people realise. Our own waste is actually exported to the countries where people think the issue originates. So it makes sense to us to do it in a local context.
We think it’s important to take people outside and show them that the actual issue is here, even though we live in a country where we think we handle our waste well and live environmentally consciously. It’s not always the case.
We know that solely cleaning up is not the solution, but it’s a fantastic tool to understand the situation. However, if we want to truly sort out the problem out we need to tackle it at source: we have to make sure that the trash doesn’t end up in nature through waste management and conscious consumption.
Best solution to fight against plastic pollution?
I don’t think there is one fixed solution. There is still so much we need to learn about how to solve these issues and we need to tackle it from all angles. But one of the big issues is that we see our waste as waste and not resources. We need to start looking at our packaging as a resource, which we need to handle correctly. A good way to do this is by giving it new life again and again. We believe a big part of the solution would be organising a global take back or a refund system, something like that to make it valuable.
Also, the price of virgin plastic is too low in comparison to recycled plastic.
For a year now there’s been a national waste system in place in Denmark. Things like this push our waste management in the right direction. However, we are still consuming way too much. We have to limit our use and look back to the oldest solution in the book:
reduce, reuse and recycle.
These are only a few points. There are so many issues which need to be solved and so many ways to do it.
What type of plastic do you find most often whilst doing the clean ups?
We have three different categories:
The biggest one is from the fishing and offshore industry (transportation). This waste includes fishing nets, fishing boxes, oil cans, working equipment… Weight wise this makes up over 50% of what we find.
The next biggest type is consumer plastic, the stuff we use in our every day life: cotton buds, tampons, water bottles, all kinds of packaging…
The third category we find is pellets – the industry standard of plastic. The weight we collect isn’t a lot as they are so difficult to remove, but we find them everywhere on our beaches.
What would you say is the biggest challenge for your company?
It’s an advantage and disadvantage: we are situated far away from the politics but right next to the problem. We often feel that we have strong stories that are worthy of national media coverage or a wider focus. However, it’s hard to get our voices out there sometimes. But, at the same time, it’s an advantage that we are situated where the issue is because we can actually get photos of the issues as they happen and develop. Plus, of course, the fact that we are only two people who work full-time makes it hard. It just takes time.
What are the day-to-day things you would recommend people do?
Reduce consumption and make sure you sort and handle your waste according to what is available in your area. Pick up trash in nature. Never litter. Reduce single use products, carry a reusable water bottle and coffee cup, invest in a lunch box. It’s the normal, little things that make a big difference.