TrashUre hunters

> Dutch clean-up heroes turn beach rub­bish into wacky works of art at a build­ing on the Schevenin­gen seafront

The Sun (Malaysia) - - FEATURE -

EVERY par­ent has watched as ex­cited chil­dren toss aside gifts to play with the boxes in­stead. But what about when they ig­nore seashells in favour of plas­tic bot­tle tops?

That was the puz­zle for Ralph Groen­hei­jde when he and his fam­ily vis­ited Costa Rica a few years ago – a trip that was to spark a pas­sion­ate cru­sade to clean up the beaches back home in the Nether­lands.

His then two-year-old son paid lit­tle heed to the shells, col­lect­ing in­stead dozens of bright­ly­coloured bot­tle tops.

Even­tu­ally, they used them to cre­ate a gi­ant sun mo­saic on the sand, be­fore de­posit­ing them in a bin.

It was to trig­ger Groen­hei­jde’s scheme not to just clean up the wide, sandy beaches skirt­ing the coast of The Hague, but also to turn an un­wanted ‘trea­sure trove’ of trash into wacky works of art.

In a play on words, this sum­mer’s cre­ations have been gath­ered in the new TrashUre Mu­seum, where lost balls and multi-coloured plas­tic spades dan­gle like dec­o­ra­tions from the ceil­ing.

Candy wrap­pers art­fully adorn a rak­ish top hat tied with blue string, and a cas­cade of flipflops makes a rain­bow floor sculp­ture.

A blue fish­er­man’s net be­comes a dress on a dummy, while hun­dreds of cig­a­rette butts spill from a gi­ant box, of­fer­ing a silent re­buke.

Har­ness­ing the power of so­cial me­dia, Groen­hei­jde or­gan­ised his first trash hunt in the Nether­lands some three years ago, and built a pi­rate ship in the sand with the finds.

“The mo­ment that it was fin­ished, the kids came and started play­ing with it,” Groen­hei­jde, 44, a trained ther­a­pist and coun­sel­lor, told AFP.

“From that mo­ment on, I be­gan call­ing the trash can a trea­sure chest, and from now on, we are trea­sure hunters. We are pi­rates. We are sav­ing an­i­mals. We are heroes be­cause of that.”

When a friend of­fered him the free use of a build­ing on the Schevenin­gen seafront, Groen­hei­jde hit on the idea of a mu­seum for the art­works.

Now, he guides groups of adults and chil­dren daily on sor­ties, mo­ti­vat­ing them to clean up the en­vi­ron­ment, to get out and stretch their mus­cles as well as their imag­i­na­tions.

This sum­mer, he set lo­cals a 90-day chal­lenge to scour the sands daily.

Since the end of June, he cal­cu­lates they have scooped up some 40 tonnes of garbage – in­clud­ing 42 dirty nap­pies, 64 san­i­tary pads and 18 tam­pons, all of which are dis­posed of in bins.

These finds come de­spite ef­forts by lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. A 15strong coun­cil crew heads out nightly us­ing trac­tors and beach clean­ers, “dig­ging and rak­ing the waste from the sand” for 10 hours on the 11km stretch of beach.

An­nu­ally € 1.9 mil­lion (RM8.5 mil­lion) is spent by The Hague to keep the beaches clean, and on a sin­gle busy day, they can col­lect up to 100sq m of trash from over 400 large bins and the shore­line, a spokesman for the city said.

The dirt­i­est finds are also why Groen­hei­jde calls his TrashUre hunters heroes for “dar­ing to take care of the toi­let” – no-one wants to clean the toi­let at home, but some­one has to.

“I never ex­pected to col­lect so much rub­bish in 15 or 20 min­utes. I was very sur­prised,” said Jawad el-Wous­tati, who was among 20 young trainees from The Hague mu­nic­i­pal­ity sent to join Groen­hei­jde on one ex­pe­di­tion.

Gig­gling, the group ini­tially turned up their noses at the task.

But as Groen­hei­jde di­vided them into groups and made it a chal­lenge, baf­fle­ment gave way to en­thu­si­asm.

Soon they were pounc­ing on every bit of of­fend­ing de­tri­tus and soon had three huge over­flow­ing bags.

“Now I’ve seen what’s on the beach, from now on, I’m go­ing to take a bag and col­lect ev­ery­thing to put in the bin,” Wous­tati said.

The piece de re­sis­tance in the mu­seum is a per­fectly-ex­e­cuted map of the world – the con­ti­nents are formed from some 30,000 cig­a­rette butts and the seas dot­ted with bot­tle tops – to rep­re­sent all the plas­tics float­ing in the oceans.

“Un­for­tu­nately, there are so many peo­ple who don’t use the rub­bish bins,” said So­phie Her­mans, one of the group tak­ing part that day.

“It’s a very sim­ple idea, and it would be so easy to do this around the world.” – AFP

(left) Groen­hei­jde speak­ing to vol­un­teers be­fore they head to the beach to col­lect trash that will be turned into works of art (right).

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