Fishing for plastic: Plastic Whale

Fishing for plastic: Plastic Whale

Dutch homewares brand Brabantia is supporting Amsterdam social enterprise Plastic Whale, which collects waste plastic from waterways to make boats to go fishing for more plastic to make boats

By Abby Trow
Marius Smit of Plastic Whale stands at the back of the boat

Plastic Whale, founded in 2011 by Marius Smit (standing at back of the boat), builds boats from plastic waste that take people fishing for plastic along the canals of Amsterdam. He's delighted Brabantia has come on board and will be supporting his work by donating a percentage of sales of its Newicon bins (which are made from 40 per cent recycled material and are 98 per cent recyclable) when they go on sale from September.

Plastic waste in the sea, in rivers and canals is a massive environmental problem because it kills marine life and birds. It also looks revolting.  

Marius Smit became so despairing of the plastic soup that had become Amerstdam's canals that he decided to do something about it, and five years ago he set up Plastic Whale. It's a social enterprise that invites local people to go plastic fishing along the canals - they fish out plastic bottles, bags and other detritus along with that other most ubiquitous form of waste, the tin can.

The retrieved plastic is taken to a large warehouse in the city and once a year it's packaged up and sent to plant in Holland that turns it into chips. Those chips then go to a plant in Belgium that turns them into foam boards and these boards go a boatbuilder who uses them to make Plastic Whale's 15ft long boats. So far it has built seven boats, each of which has an engine. And more boats mean more plastic fishing trips, which means more boats..and the virtuous cycle can continue.


Gross..but a circular economy approach can solve the problem of plastic pollution of our seas and waterways
Marius Smit (right) with Brabantia's UK sales director David Slater. The Newicon bins will provide cash for Plastic Whale

Smit says charities and organisations in other countries are expressing an interest in running plastic fishing trips and it's easy to see why: 'It's very simple, it's about creating a value in a waste product and using that material to make products that improve people's lives. The plastic boards can be used for other prodcuts, not just boats - for example we're launching a range of skateboards made from them.'

Of course, he would hope that ultimately Plastic Whale won't be needed because if we all make efforts to minimise our use of plastic and don't drop our rubbish on the ground or throw it into water, the world's waters won't be a plastic soup any more. But that looks like being some way off.

In the meantime, gathering up the plastic and using it to make boats and other useful things is an eminently sensible thing to do and something people, certainly in Amsterdam, seem very happy to do.