Plastic pollution is a worldwide problem, with piles of debris along coastlines, on roadsides, in landfills and floating in waterways. Environmentally conscious companies are looking for ways to clean up the mess while simultaneously seeking out methods to recycle plastic waste into other products. One Dutch company, The Recycled Island Foundation (RIF), is tackling both problems with one solution — Litter Traps.

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floating waste trap collecting plastic from a river

According to the RIF website, the motivation for the project came from the knowledge that our waterways are part of global ecosystem, where everybody benefits or pays the consequences of waste management.

“Plastic pollutes our seas and oceans and has a direct and deadly effect on marine life,” the foundation said. “Thousands of birds, seals, turtles, whales and other marine animals are killed every year after ingesting plastic or getting strangled in it. With the plastics breaking down into smaller particles, it also enters the human food chain.”

Related: This floating park in Rotterdam is made from recycled plastic waste

Knowing that the majority of ocean pollution comes from rivers that lead out to sea, RIF decided to stop plastic waste before it could travel that far. The foundation’s Litter Traps are aptly named. Sourced from recycled plastic themselves, the traps filter water, collect plastic and stop that plastic from traveling downstream. The collected plastic is then made into durable floating parks, seating elements, building materials and even more Litter Traps.

The passive design of the Litter Trap allows it to float in the river, harbor or port, catching plastic once it floats inside the trap. The system does not rely on any energy source. Once full, the trap is emptied, and the usable plastic is sorted. The plastic then heads into manufacturing, where it is turned into a variety of products. This circular system allows the company to collect materials, clean up the rivers and make products without waste and at a minimal cost.

floating hexagons comprising a park on the water

The RIF has been busy collecting plastic from local waterways for some time. More than one year ago, it opened a prototype in Rotterdam, the Netherlands called the Recycled Park. This floating park is made entirely from recycled plastic gathered from the nearby Meuse River. You can read more about that project here.

The initial park prototype is an example of how recycled plastic can be used to replicate the marine ecosystem, complete with live plants above and below the park that animals such as snails, flatworms, larva, beetles and fish call home.

What began as a local movement has gone international. New Litter Traps are being manufactured to tackle river waste around the world. Belgium and Indonesia were the first countries to adopt the RIF approach, and the organization is now preparing similar projects in Vietnam, France, the Philippines, Brazil and more. As an example of how the mechanism performs, a single Litter Trap located in Belgium is emptied twice a week, and the average amount of waste collected is 1.5 cubic meters per month.

The goal is to continue to expand the use of Litter Traps to divert plastic from the oceans on a large scale. The future of the Litter Trap is bright, with plans to make portable Litter Traps and Litter Traps that can collect and hold larger quantities of plastic before needing emptied.

3D-printed black couch made from recycled plastic

Now partnering with international companies, RIF hopes to create products that are in high demand in the areas where the plastic is collected. RIF is working with innovators to turn the plastic into a durable and easy-to-assemble housing material. It is also looking into large-scale, 3D-printing options using the marine plastic. For example, the company offers custom couches made entirely from salvaged marine plastic that is 3D-printed into shape.

RIF feels knowledge is power in the campaign for plastic reduction, so it has implemented an educational program that includes ways to reduce plastic consumption, information about proper recycling techniques and an opportunity to participate in clean-up efforts. It hopes to continue to inspire action and raise awareness about the problem by visiting schools and organizing community events.

two people sitting on a floating bench

When it comes to environmental efforts, the more hands involved in projects, the better. RIF has partnered with dozens of agencies with similar goals, creating a village of like-minded companies hoping to lead the way toward better plastic management and the creation of durable, reusable products.

+ The Recycled Island Foundation

Images via The Recycled Island Foundation