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Living in the Plastic Age


EndPlasticSoup is a Rotary movement, started in the Netherlands, which is changing the conversation about the environment and which has captured the imaginations of many.

By Dave King

Published Date: February 1, 2021

When the Belgian-American chemist, Leo Baekeland, created the first synthetic, mass-produced plastic in 1907, little did he realise what he was unleashing on the world.

There has been no material more revolutionary than modern plastic.

Since the 1950s, it has been used in almost every single industry, in a vast variety of ways, thanks to its versatility, high durability and an ability to be moulded into whatever shape necessary.

No material has changed the world the way plastic has.

Gert-Jan van Dommelen, co-founder of the proposed EndPlasticSoup Rotary Action Group, knows full well how plastics threaten to destroy the earth’s eco-system, and he wants to do something about it.

“Plastic soup is not just the plastic waste in the oceans, it’s not just the plastic waste in the waters or our rivers and lakes.

“It is the plastic waste in our environment,” he said.

“Eighty per cent of plastic waste gets into the ocean sooner or later, through the air or through our rivers.”

In little more than two years, EndPlasticSoup is gaining traction.

Plastic soup is not just the plastic waste in the oceans, it’s not just the plastic waste in the waters or our rivers and lakes, it is the plastic waste in our environment. 

Already, a number of Rotary clubs in Great Britain & Ireland have signed up to become a member club, joining a movement which is supported by 1,500 clubs, and 3,500 Rotarians and Rotaractors globally, with 72 Ambassador Clubs in 47 countries.

Their aim is simple; by 2050, to rid the world of the plastic soup which lingers in the oceans and seas, in our lakes, rivers, forests, parks and streets.

Their desire is for Rotary, Rotaract and Interact clubs worldwide to work together to solve and prevent the plastic pollution problem.

As Rotary seeks to define itself to a younger audience beyond a traditional constituency of polio, so plastics and campaigning for the environment is being regarded by some as a path to Millennial enlightenment.

“EndPlasticSoup really appeals to the younger generation,” explained Gert-Jan, who has been a Rotarian for less than four years with the Rotary Club of Huizen Gooimeer, 25 miles east of Amsterdam.

“Youngsters now regard Rotary as a different organisation and are happy to be part of this. Many people see this as new Rotary. My own club gained eight new members over the past 18 months because of this initiative.”

Five Rotary clubs from the Netherlands started the initiative in 2018 following a plastic soup fishing weekend cleaning up Amsterdam’s canals.

What now exists is an advocacy and action movement which aims to educate, challenge and provide a pathway towards change.

“Rotary cannot solve this alone,” added Gert-Jan. “We need all the people on this planet.

“We need all the governments, all the industries and all the organisations to work together, building alliances, so we can accelerate and connect to make this possible.”

In practical terms, EndPlasticSoup is looking for Rotary, Rotaract and Interact clubs to start the debate by creating awareness in their own communities, perhaps taking on a small project, such as the clean-up of a park or a beach.

This is a perfect opportunity to recruit community-minded volunteers.

In Gert-Jan’s home town of Huizen Gooimeer, the Rotary club has strong links with the town’s High Schools and have organised events with the environmentally-awakened students who have been inspired by Swedish teenage activist, Greta Thunberg.

We need all the governments, all the industries and all the organisations to work together, building alliances, so we can accelerate and connect to make this possible. 

There they have worked with children on the perils of cigarettes – not just on the health risks of smoking, but on the dangers to animals, and that has clearly struck a chord.

Cigarettes filters contain microplastics, so when the butts are discarded on the streets, they are collected by birds and other animals which can cause harm. This is a message the schoolchildren have been successfully taking home to their parents.

In the Moluccas in Indonesia, where the river takes care of the rubbish when it rains, flushing the plastic debris into the ocean, EndPlasticSoup is working with its partner Happy Green Islands on Saparua to educate the children.

The schoolchildren’s task is to fill three big nets of plastic rubbish they collect each day, with a reward once they have completed the task.

EndPlasticSoup works with 50 corporate organisations worldwide.

All share similar values and all are making a difference in various pockets of the globe, establishing connections with Rotary clubs in the Philippines, Thailand, Egypt, the Caribbean, Honduras, Turkey, Russia and Brazil.

One example is the work they are doing with Boyan Slat, the Dutch inventor and entrepreneur, who is also the founder of The Ocean Cleanup, which has developed advanced systems to rid the world’s oceans of plastics.

The Ocean Cleanup is also targeting rivers. EndPlasticSoup is working in eight different locations, including in Alexandria, Egypt, cleaning the River Nile for a project which is reaching across communities and involves both Orthodox Christian and Muslim Rotary clubs.

A legal charitable entity in the Netherlands, EndPlasticSoup has applied to become a formal Rotary Action Group worldwide, working with WASH, the Water Sanitation & Hygiene Rotary Action Group, and ESRAG, the Environmental Sustainability Action Group.

EndPlasticSoup has created a series of action packages to provide a focus for Rotary club environmental activities.

Over the coming months, the focus is on a series of action days to co-ordinate Rotary activities and engage communities.

March 22nd is World Water Day, June 5th is the United Nations’ World Environment Day, June 6th is Rotary EndPlasticSoup Action Day and September 18th is World Cleanup Day.

It is a campaign, said the Dutch co-founder, which is crossing generations.

“Suddenly, people are seeing Rotary in a different way and I think that is appealing. People are so concerned about the planet and about climate-change.

“It is difficult to do something about carbon dioxide and things you can’t grab.

“With plastic, you can grab it. Plastic is there. You can do something about it and you can start today.”

Gert-Jan added: “What is important is awareness that is why we are asking Rotary clubs all over the world to join this initiative just by adding the EndPlasticSoup element to their actions.

“For example, you may be doing a walk for water to do fund raising for Africa, with schoolchildren or community volunteers. Why not ask to clean up on their walk because we don’t want to leave plastic in nature?

“We want to educate children not just by giving a lesson, but by asking the schools to work with parents, staff and the wider community to really reduce plastic consumption.

“In my home town, when we go to the flower shop we ask them not to use plastic wrapping but paper instead.

“It is about awareness, action and alliances across the full cycle, not just clean-up at the end.

“This is not an easy thing, it is complex, but when you start doing this, miracles happen.

“Everybody wants the same thing, and that is what is unique about this project.

“Start at the club level, start today.

“Try to find a few people who feel energised to do one or two things initially.

“Do this step-by-step. Don’t make it too big, we will need you for more years than just this year.

“Join us now and, if possible, become a member club to support us.

“We can share all the information and knowledge we have.”

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