There’s no doubt plastic is flowing through earth’s waterways and harming marine life, so Recycled Island Foundation (RIF) is working on ways to capture and repurpose it before it reaches the ocean. In fact, the plastic they recycle will even help sustain marine life. RIF’s new “Recycled Park” in Rotterdam, Netherlands creatively utilizes recycled plastic waste to build floating structures that will provide habitats to a variety of species as well as a pleasant public green space.

“The aim of this iconic Recycled Park is to illustrate that recycled plastic from the open waters is a valuable material and suitable for recycling. By re-using the retrieved plastics and by producing building blocks with them, the plastics receive new value,” Recycled Island Foundation (RIF) describes one of their major goals of the project.

Aside from preventing the plastic from going into the ocean and finding a new use for it, the project serves several other important purposes.

According to RIF “birds, fish and micro-organism find food, breeding ground and shelter in the floating park. Through the park runs a small canal about half a meter deep; small fish and birds find here shelter and the space to grow before entering the deeper waters.”

In the process, this will help the city of Rotterdam achieve another goal – the structures and the animals they attract will help “soften” the riverbanks hard shores to create slopes over time.

Turning Plastic Into a Park

The project took several years of planning, securing funds and permission in Rotterdam, as well as collaboration with many stakeholders before it could even get underway. Of course, since the Recycled Park is made entirely of recycled plastic, RIF and its supporters had to collect all that plastic first.

Step 1: Trapping Plastic Before it Reaches the Ocean

The first step in creating the park was capturing the plastic that flowed through the New Meuse river, which empties into the North Sea. With the help of Hebo Maritiemservice and the Rotterdam municipality, RIF developed “passive litter traps.”  The traps are floating structures with a deep bin-like area where plastic can collect and build up. Although water flows through the trap, plastic becomes trapped.

 

The best part is that these devices can be used in rivers throughout the world to stop plastic before it ever enters the ocean, and RIF has already helped place a litter trap in the bay of Ambon in Indonesia.

“The water is in many cities the lowest point, resulting in the unfortunate accumulation of litter in our rivers,” Architect and founder of RIF said. “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. Rotterdam can set an example for port cities everywhere in the world. The realization of the building blocks in recycled plastics is an important step towards a litter free river.”

Step 2: Sorting Plastic Waste

Once the trap is full, the plastic is sorted and processed. Different types of plastic can serve different purposes or uses in the structures.

“An important aspect is that we want to reuse all the plastics we find. It is crucial and we prefer not to have any remaining waste,” according to RIF. “With the development of the building blocks we do hope that one day the plastic pollution will become less.”

Step 3: Making Building Blocks

Once the plastic is sorted and a UV-blocker is added to prevent it from degrading, it’s molded into building blocks. With the help of Wageningen University, RIF settled on a hexagonal design, which means more pieces can easily be added on later to expand the floating park.

The pieces vary in height and are partially submerged. This allows for plants, including trees, to grow on the top of the blocks. Birds and other animals can build their nests there or rest on the structures. A testament to the success of the project, ducks were already making use of the structures even before the grand opening.

This revolutionary project sets an example for the world. If we continue on the track we’re on by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, and 99 percent of seabirds will have eaten plastic. If humans stop using single-use plastic items like plastic bags, cups, and straws, and can repurpose the plastic we do use, we may be able to save our oceans. The Recycled Park along with RIF helps present a partial but important solution to the 8 million tons of plastic that end up in the ocean every year.