“beach cleaner” is an organization dedicated not only to making our beaches more livable to the many creatures that call them home, but also, and more importantly, to protecting our oceans from the plastic menace of humanity’s callously wasteful tendencies. Even inland cities like Nuremburg, Germany, where beach cleaner is based, can do their part in preventing waste from travelling down waterways and contributing to the problem, and in reducing the prevalence of plastic.
From park and riverside cleanups, to raising community awareness of the issue, to organizing oceanside beach cleanups around the world, beach cleaner is part of a global movement attempting to undo one of the greatest unnatural disasters of the modern age.
Silvia Häberlein lives in Nuremberg, where she has a typical job in the sporting goods industry. Indeed, she is passionate about sports, and the outdoors; but where her heart truly lies is in sustainability, to the extent that she has recently returned to study, at the age of 32, to embark on an MBA degree in Sustainability Management.
She sums up her position beautifully, “I am very passionate about sustainability and am convinced that there is no other way than changing the way we live at the moment to ensure a livable future for the next generations. From my point of view, everyone who understands the sincereness and urgency of the climate crisis has the obligation to change his or her own lifestyle in a sustainable way and also to share that knowledge, to create awareness and to enable others to follow that change as well.”
In fact, it was at a sustainability-focused meeting at Silvia’s day job that she met Anne Mäusbacher–an event that would change the trajectory of her life. Though the two already worked for the same company, this meeting made them realize the passion they both shared. They began to meet more regularly, and Silvia was introduced to Anne’s side project: an organization called beach cleaner, founded in 2015.
Fascinated by the project, Silvia began supporting it regularly, becoming a member of the beach cleaner Core Team in December 2019. Since then, she’s supported Anne at school presentations, educating pupils on the importance of our oceans and the harm plastic garbage is having on them and on us. She’s managed beach cleanup events and has spoken at sustainability fairs to introduce the organization, beach cleaner, as well as Anne’s recently published book, Kids for the Ocean, a step-by-step guide for families and schools to prevent plastic pollution in the ocean.
Now, she’s generously donated some of her time to answer a few questions.
– Is it a rewarding experience, being part of a cleanup operation? Or do you find it disheartening at the amount of waste?
After a successful cleanup, you feel mostly shocked by the huge amount of plastic, even in places that on first sight seem to be quite clean. Once you start opening your eyes to the plastic pollution around, you can’t look away anymore. It is a very rewarding feeling to clean up your environment, as you feel you can so easily do your part against the pollution of our planet and the oceans. It is always a nice feeling to come together with similar-minded people, to clean up as a team, and discuss the experience.
Also, it attracts the attention of uninvolved people walking by. Often they stop, ask what we’re doing and are impressed and thankful. I hope it inspires many people watching us to take a small bag next time they go for a walk and just pick up what they find on their way. It’s the small steps that count.
Another amazing feeling is to watch the children joining us cleaning up. How much fun they have, how eager they are to learn and how concerned they are about the environment.
– Volunteers deserve a lot of thanks and support for the work involved in a cleanup. It’s still only a temporary solution though, isn’t it? Does most of the waste cleared from a beach end up in landfill, recycled, or perhaps repurposed?
Absolutely. Doing cleanup work is helping but can never solve the problem. It is an effective way to get active whenever and wherever you are. However, the real problem lies in overproduction and overconsumption of unsustainable and packaged goods and also the missing awareness by consumers. Especially now, in Covid times, so much more onetime-plastic packaging is being used, due to increased consumption of take-away meals, and additional hygienic concepts such as PPE. There are solutions to many of these problems, though, such as bringing your own takeaway containers, or restaurants offering a deposit system for reusable packaging. I have strong hope that these will soon conquer the market to solve this problem.
The sad truth is that only 9% of the total plastic waste is being recycled and the rest goes into landfills or into the ocean. The garbage that we’re collecting in our local cleanup initiatives is always separated correctly and then picked up by local waste management to make sure the maximum possible amount will be recycled.
– Does the problem seem to you to be getting worse every year?
Unfortunately, it does, yes. The awareness is increasing among many of us, but still there are too many that don’t know or do not care. With the increasing amount of consumption, the amount of waste will likewise keep on rising. We need governments to react, and support solutions for plastic free shopping and take-away.
– What’s the worst beach you’ve witnessed in terms of plastic pollution?
As we are based in Nuremberg, which is about 600km from the ocean, I have unfortunately never been part of a cleanup at the beach. There is just as much work inland for beach cleaner to do, however, as we are protecting beaches by cleaning up in the city and preventing garbage to be taken by rivers to the ocean, which has historically been a big problem. In recent times, we have also added team members in Sevilla, Spain and in Portland, Oregon, US, so we’re expanding our regional initiatives closer to the ocean.
While the worst pollution I have privately seen was many years ago at a river in Jakarta, Indonesia, the worst amount of garbage we found at local cleanups was in a park in Nuremberg. A bit hidden, behind a hill we found kind of an illegal garbage dump. There were doors, bicycles, clothes, mattresses and even canisters with toxic substances.
– How many cleanups have you been involved with?
I have been involved in 6 cleanup events since I joined beach cleaner. We are organizing them around every second month in Nuremberg. One additional big project was planned last year: to do an Ocean School in Morocco including education and cleanup event, but this was canceled unfortunately because of Covid. Hopefully, we can have it in November this year (2021).
– Have you had to cancel a lot of clean-ups do to the pandemic?
In addition to the Ocean School, we needed to cancel some cleanup events here in Nuremberg, due to contact restrictions. We instead organized a virtual cleanup session via Instagram and hoped we could inspire some people to go cleaning up on their own or in small groups. On March 20th we have had also planned a cleanup session, but due to Covid restrictions we can’t organize it as an event. So, we motivated people to join in a more distant, Corona-conforming way.
Our education work was also impacted by the school closure. A big part of the work we’re doing is presenting, in schools, the problems of plastic pollution and educating on what each of us can do to prevent it. This is also linked to the book “Kids for the Ocean“, which was specifically designed for teachers and parents to use as educational material. We hope that schools can soon return to normal classes and that we can recommence our “Kids for the Ocean“ presentations.
– Tell us about Kids for the Ocean. What are the book’s origins?
After holidays in Ibiza, that were in a sad way eye-opening for Anne and her family, because they found so much plastic waste on the beach, they decided to turn their experience into action. Thus, when they’d returned home to Germany, Anne and her family founded beach cleaner as a first step. Additionally, Anne conducted an international management training (MOOC) about the effects of Marine Litter (a program run by the UNEP and the Open University of the Netherlands). Based on this knowledge, Anne decided to write the book “Kids for the Ocean”, an educational book about marine debris and its prevention.
– Is it directed mainly at children or adults?
The book is suitable for every age group. It contains lots of learning material, that is elaborated in a playful manner. E.g. quizzes, a memory game, DIY recipes and many more. It is being sold on our website www. beach cleaner.de and it is available on Amazon and in local bookstores around the world, both in print and ebook version. It is available in English and German.
– Do you think it should be required reading in schools the world over?
Yes! I think it should be part of obligatory education for pupils to learn about climate change, the importance of an intact eco-system and how to protect our environment. The book is a perfect way to introduce the topic in schools and focus on the protection of our oceans. It probably has enough content and exercises to be taught as a subject for one school year. There are certainly many more great educational books out there, that can be a perfect complement to Kids for the Ocean and might focus more on the protection of our woods, soil or air quality.
– How would you try to introduce it to people who might not be aware of the problem, or even worse who might not care?
It is important to communicate the topic on a rational and an emotional level. Facts count and are undeniable. However, to really address the necessary feeling of urgency and encourage action, we need to address the topic in an emotional way, talking about the extinction of marine life and eco-culture and the harm to our future generations. Also I would make aware that the plastic problem affects our health directly e.g. by plasticizers, that we consume with packaged food, or by microplastics we consume as part of the fish we eat. In the end, we can’t force anyone to care about the problem if they are not willing to listen, learn and understand. It is an offer to everyone to take first easy steps to do their part, to gather knowledge and become an environment and ocean ambassador. What’s ultimately essential is the readiness to face the truth, understand the problem, and get out of one’s comfort zone to protect the ocean, the planet and our future quality of life.
For more information of beach cleaner’s history and planned future events; facts about our impact on the world’s oceans; details on purchasing Kids for the Ocean, which is available in print on demand and digital versions; and tons of tips about how you can get involved in local cleanups or help out in other ways, visit their website, https://www.beachcleaner.de/