My name is Niek (international friends call me Nicky) and I love animals, nature, horse-riding, snorkelling, travelling and reading. Indirectly, it was the combination of horse-riding and snorkelling that gave me the idea for farmers4oceans. During snorkelling with my family around Sardinia, Sicily, Favignana, Levanzo, Elba and the Costa Brava in the past 20 years, we came across increasing amounts of plastic in the sea, on the beach, and we had plastic confetti in our hair every time we came out of the water. Of course, we cleaned up as much as possible to put it in bins. Sometimes we received help, especially from children who also started cleaning up, and often a thumbs-up from others. And sometimes negative comments that no matter what we do, we cannot make a difference, the problem is too big.
Of course, cleaning up as an individual is just a drop in a bucket.
I started studying the subject of plastic a little and the problems it causes.
During a holiday on Sicily, we went to the island Favignana. In the vicinity of the harbour, we happened to come across an open door without a notice. A girl asked us if we wanted to come in and showed us all of the rescued sea turtles, all with plastic, fish hooks and fishing lines in their stomachs and intestines, in different phases of their recovery process. There were also X-rays and slides of sea turtles that did not survive. Seeing these magnificent, prehistoric animals affected in such an awful and preventable manner broke my heart.
I think this is where the wish arose to really start making a difference. When we came home after this holiday and I returned to the horse farm to look after my horse, a light switched on: all of the packaging of the horse bedding for the stables is made of the same material: LDPE foil, and it is usually fairly clean. Just at the farm where my horse lives, approximately 2000 plastic bags of horse bedding are used per year. So I started looking for details about LDPE foil. Easily recyclable, not profitable. During this search, I came across PreciousPlastic.com. I became enthusiastic and joined the PreciousPlastic community as a member straight away. Soon after that, I was invited by PP-member Lisanne of the DesignLab of Twente University to come and join the group of students who were going to build the PreciousPlastic machines. It took a fairly long time and I started looking for a shredder on the second-hand site. I found someone who built them and he explained that a twin-shaft shredder was better than the single-shaft from the blueprint. He had already built both and I was welcome to come have look and to test the plastic in his machines. The green plastic from the hay bales was unmanageable and very tough, but the LDPE foil from the horse bedding was perfect for the shredder. Two months later, my own shredder was built and Albert came to deliver it. In the meantime, I had collected and saved up the plastic packaging for about a year and a half from the farm and was ready to start shredding it. Every day when I returned from work, I was in the shed shredding plastic for a couple of hours.
A few months later, help came from an unexpected corner. My father-in-law told his brother-in-law about my plans and the machine I’d had built. This brother-in-law and a colleague of his came to take a look at the shredder, how it worked and considered it perfect for the social workshop where they work as supervisors. We moved the shredder and people with a mental disability work with it now, and they really enjoy doing it! The supervisors and the workshop employees are looking forward to making products and clearly get an entire process from collecting plastic, shredding it and subsequently melting it, making new products and eventually selling high-quality products from recycled plastic.
On the recommendation of a friend who is an industrial designer, we are starting with something small, letter and figure clips to put on towels, bathrobes and horse blankets, etc. and to use as key chains. The initial test moulds are in the making and the experiments will start when they are ready.
What I really want to make from this plastic is something much bigger, it concerns 3 designs that will enable young and old to remove plastic and microplastics from the oceans and beaches in an easy and playful way and, of course, prevent litter from ending up in the environment. The Precious Plastic community can play a big role in this eventually.