What they do …

11. Thijs

The eleventh blog post in this category, wow!
This time Thijs will tell us more about the work of Stichting Klean and with his story he shows us how easy it is to make the world a clean (better) place. I first heard about Thijs and Stichting Klean through an e-mail from my dad. He scanned a newspaper article in which Thijs explained more about the foundation and my dad wrote he thought it might be an interesting read for me as well. I don’t know Thijs on a personal level, so I cannot tell you any special or fun facts about him, but he was very kind to take the time to write this and I feel honoured to share his and the foundation’s story! (Thanks dad for your inspiration!)
Note: Thijs wrote his story in Dutch, so if you can read Dutch, please do that! Below is my translation of his story.

“Renske’s blog is about doing something small for a better world.
However there is something strange going on with regard to these ‘little steps’. Many people think that doing something small makes no sense. And so they do nothing. ‘A drop in the ocean’ is an expression much heard, but people tend to forget that even the ocean is made of drops. So no drops, no ocean.

Taking those small steps does have meaning. And because they are small, they are also easy to repeat and therefore easy to keep on doing. Plus, such small steps can be done simultaneously by many people. And that brings us to the essence: if many people would do something small on a daily basis, it will have a huge impact!

Litter is something we can solve with many small actions. It’s actually a very suitable problem to tackle with the ‘small actions by many people’-tactic. Besides, if we understand how easy the solution can be, we’ll see that other sustainability problems are also easy to solve. We live with so many people on this earth, that we are very strong together. The Dutch astronaut Wubbo Ockels (deceased on May 18, 2014) said in his memorable farewell speech, from his deathbed: ‘We, humanity, are so strong that we can save the Earth. But we can also destroy her … Even a small thing, does something.’


The whole philosophy (or rather strategy) of actually doing something, although small, about litter in the Netherlands is promoted and implemented by Klean Foundation. Yes, you read that right, Klean with a K. It is in fact a [Dutch] acronym for Complaining Really Doesn’t Help At All [Klagen Loont Echt Absoluut Niet]. Founder Peter Smith from Amsterdam didn’t want to complain about litter, so he went looking for the smallest possible way to solve this problem. Well, and what is the smallest way? Right, picking up trash from the street or from the roadside, on a daily basis!

That doesn’t mean you have to take out your garbage bags, special gloves and materials (if you want to: go ahead, awesome!). Compare it with better oral health: brushing is a daily activity; it will be a habit, and once it’s in your system, you’ll find it quite normal. Nobody brushes his teeth only once a week for fifteen minutes, I hope …

So a daily small step is much easier to implement and maintain than a big step once per week/month/year. Smith calculated that if all the cheerful, energetic and positive Dutch pick up one piece of litter every day, the Netherlands will be clean within a week! Litter is not only unsightly and can make a neighbourhood look unsafe, but it can also end up in the plastic soup. As many as 80 percent of waste in the Gyre is waste produced on land, so let’s also start there with preventing the growth of the plastic soup.

Klean Foundation likes to use social media like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to show others that it is very common to pick up litter every day. #zwerfie is a tag created for these social media: a selfie of you picking up a piece of litter (and throwing it in the garbage bin) [zwerf = wander, roam]. We encourage all the cheery Dutchies who pick up litter to take a zwerfie and put it online. This will inspire other people to follow your example and this is how the snowball starts rolling!

It was our goal to involve the entire Dutch population.

To show the enormous power of ‘doing one small thing’ to the entire world, Peter Smith created the project Plastic Madonna. For this awareness project as many as 100,000 small plastic bottles were needed. We could pick up those bottles up with a small group of volunteers, but that would not fit the idea of Klean: ‘a small step done by many people’. It might even be too easy. No, from the beginning it was our goal to involve the entire Dutch population. We set up collecting boxes and people were invited to donate (at least) one bottle in such a container. After ten months we collected more than 100,000 bottles! A wonderful example of achieving something great by doing something small, with lots of people. The bottles were crushed and then made into filament, a thread for 3D printers. We are now in search of at least 1,000 3D printers that will print puzzle pieces with this filament.

This puzzle will be a statue of a 12 meter tall mother who is feeding her baby: Plastic Madonna. We hope to exhibit this statue at the beach of Scheveningen, near The Hague. In Rio de Janeiro, a plastic Madonna will stand on the beach during the 2016 Olympics! Imagine the great statue of Christ on the mountain in Rio de Janeiro, which looks down on the Madonna on the beach. Not to be missed by the world press!

Plastic soup finally comes back on our plate, hence the symbolism of breastfeeding: we pass on the plastic soup to the next generation. Pick up a zwerfie per day to stop this: the Power of One!”