One Artist’s 30-Minute Solution to the Planet’s Pesky Trash Problem

Tommy Kleyn’s effort transforms a section of a polluted waterway in the Netherlands.

(Photo: Project Schone Schie/Facebook)

Apr 21, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Soda bottles and caps, bags from convenience stores, and packaging for processed foods—it’s the kind of plastic trash that most of us are used to seeing on our sidewalks. All that debris washes down storm drains and into our rivers, lakes, and oceans. But Tommy Kleyn, a Rotterdam, Netherlands–based artist, got so fed up with seeing the refuse lining the banks of a section of a local stream that he decided to do something about it.

For the past five weeks, Kleyn has spent 30 minutes a day—the amount of time you’d spend watching your favorite sitcom—picking up garbage in a particularly dirty part of the Schie waterway. Kleyn travels along the Schie during his morning bike ride to work. Although the garbage stuck among the plants along the banks bothered him, it was his three-month-old son who motivated him to take action.

“What do I say when my son asks why this is such a mess?” Kleyn told RTV Rinjmond.

Tommy Kleyn. (Photo: Project Schone Schie/Facebook)

Kleyn began leaving home a bit earlier, toting along a trash bag and a grapple—those long poles with pinchers at the end—to pick up the refuse. He also started posting pictures of his efforts to Facebook, which inspired some of his friends to join in. Before long, they transformed a 100-meter polluted section of waterway into a clean, bird-friendly habitat.

Now Kleyn is challenging people around the world to pick up garbage in their communities too. He’s calling his movement Project Schone Schie (“schone” is Dutch for clean).

“Take 30 minutes out of your year to fill a trash bag with litter. It feels great and youll make a big impact. Send us your before and after pics!” reads the “About” section of the Facebook page for the project, which he launched last week.

Along with inspiring other people to clean up plastic trash and raise awareness about the need to be more environmentally responsible, Kleyn also hopes to “change the collective mindset from ‘them to ‘us, ” according to the page.

His efforts seem to be working. People have begun to send Kleyn pictures showing that they’re taking him up on his challenge. He’s received photos from a group in Denmark that banded together to clean a beach and some folks in Taiwan who picked up detritus along a waterway there.

Kleyns before and after pictures show how much nicer the Schie looks after he and his helpers put time and effort into beautifying the area. Whats even more critical is that now that the trash is gone, birds and fish living along the waterway wont get ill from consuming garbage. Indeed, given the pervasiveness of the problem of animals getting sick from eating plastic, taking 30 minutes out of your year to pick up litter doesnt seem like much of a sacrifice.

River bank before and after trash collection. (Photo: Project Schone Schie/Facebook)