In a small village in Norway, it has taken three years of beach cleaning to collect as much plastic waste that the world releases into the ocean in five seconds.
In 2014 we asked ourselves how long it would take to fill up a whole silo with the marine litter that hit the shores of the 800 meter stretch of beach in Hoddevik, Norway. The efforts led to the project ‘Tavaha Løa’ (Tavaha Barn) – Norway’s first waste management centre for marine plastics. The Tavaha Barn has also become one of Norway’s coolest places to experience the magnitude and consequences of marine pollution. Now, three years later, the silo is three quarters full and contains over 1300 kilos of plastic, sorted into fifty different categories.
‘Lagelig til for hogg’ – why Norway is so exposed
Every minute, 15 tonnes of plastic to end up in the ocean. The number is difficult to relate to. To say that it equals one million plastic bags might not help either. The the amount is ‘just too much’ is our only coherent description of it. And as long as we don’t have effective land-based solutions which prevents the plastic from reaching the ocean, the pollution will continue. Minute by minute.
If the Icelandic poet and historian Snorre Sturlasson had written a saga about Norway and plastic waste in the marine environment, he might have concluded that Norway ‘står lagelig til for hogg’, in non-Scandinavian modern language – that Norway is particularly exposed to the problem. The map below shows why.
This is a simulation of the global streams of marine plastic pollution. Red indicates a high concentration of plastic on the ocean’s surface, and blue indicates a low concentration. The map shows where ocean plastics concentrate over time. Every white dot is a point of emission. If the colour is deep red this equals a high concentration of plastic, and the blue shows the opposite.
The interesting point, and the reason why Norway is particularly exposed, is that even though Norway only has three indicated points of emission, we experience a very high concentration of plastic on our coastline. The level is actually as high as areas in Asia with a much greater density of the white emission points.
This happens because the ocean currents that reach Norway have travelled far and brought with them waste from distant places. So, even if all Norwegians have stopped using plastics today, our coast would still continue to be filled up with waste from the rest of the world. And because there is a lack of land-based solutions in the rest of the world, marine litter will hit our Norwegian shores for decades to come. This means we have to clean the Northern coasts.
It’s like Uber for beach cleaning
Beach cleaning is still the most effective tool we have for cleaning the ocean. And we are lucky to have enough people to contribute in the efforts. What we don’t have though, are the tools to make it simple for people to contribute whenever they want to.
We are lacking a solid infrastructure which enables and and motivates people to contribute when they find themselves by the ocean. We could call it an infrastructure for every-day beach cleaning. In the start-up lingo, a platform for crowsourcing beachcleaners. #plukkanopp
With the Tavaha Barn we aim to demonstrate and experiment with what this infrastructure could look like, and how we can encourage others to adopt beaches in an effective and constructive way. The project has exceeded all (my personal) expectations.
The Tavaha Barn motivates, engages and educated. It receives, cleans, sorts, and provides us with quality statistics of the sources of pollution. All generations of visitors get the ‘marine waste addiction’.
We have had vists from the local politicians, national media and even Sky News. Every week, the latest guests at Lapoint Surfcamp and Akka Surf clean the beaches and contribute to keeping the Hoddevik beach pristine, together with other surfers.1300 kilos of plastic are now stored in the silo, waiting to be given new life.
Five seconds of the world
It is thought-provoking that it has taken three years of beach cleaning to relieve the world from five seconds of its total plastic emissions. This said, the least constructive way to go forward is to put this environmental problem in perspective. When we put everything in perspective, there is a danger that most things become small and insignificant. And that makes us stagnate. In order to reach the magnitude of the sustainability challenges the world is facing at this point in time, we have to be comfortable with doing something small for something big. And greatest of all is the ocean.
When we clean the ocean, ever single piece of plastic is a victory. The Tavaha Barn has 1300 kilos of victories, and has brought the world five secondsin the right direction.
Come visit the barn next time you find yourself in Hoddevik.
And if you want to create a tavaha barn yourself, we would love to help you!
Thanks for all the support from everyone who contributes to the barn! To AKKA Surf for allowing us to use the barn to take care of Hoddevik. To Lapoint Surfcamp Stadt for giving all guests inspiring talks about how to take care of the ocean, and contributing to the weekly beach cleaning. To Grete Hoddevik, the local beach cleaning heroine. And lastly, to Plastreturs Miljøprosjekt and Patagonia Grant Fund for financial support.