Rover Scouts work to bin the world’s oceans of waste
The Hague - In the shadow of the pier at Scheveningen, a couple of boys are playing on the beach, searching for shells and unsuspecting sea creatures to add to the pulsating jellyfish they’ve already tipped into their bright blue bucket.
This 11 kilometre stretch of sand is one of the most popular in The Netherlands, drawing hundreds of thousands of people every year, and it’s here that a group of Rover Scouts are “auditing” the shore for plants, animals and rubbish, especially plastic.
Mario Ferreira, who’s from Portugal and leading the group, picks up what looks like a skinny pink worm. “Here it is,” he says, holding the scrap in the air for all to see. “This is probably from a fishing net. Animals can eat this. It fills their stomach and they die.”
The Scouts lean in for a closer look, and armed with their checklists - phones ready to photograph anything unusual - split into five groups and get to work. They’re looking for all kinds of litter, whether dropped in Scheveningen itself or brought in on the tide. They’ll also record any sea animals they discover - living or dead.
At first glance, the beach looks clean enough, and there’s plenty of marine life; jellyfish quivering on the shore, tiny crabs tumbling through the surf, and seagulls wheeling in the sky or keeping watch from the sand.
But soon the Scouts are finding plastic bags, pieces of glass and other bits of rubbish. One – with evident distaste - holds a soggy plaster at his fingertips.
“We are in a world that’s being destroyed by us,” says Milene Ribeiro Batista, a 19-year-old Scout from Portugal, who’s part of the team. “We don’t know how big our impact is and, as Scouts, we have a responsibility to do something.”
About two-thirds of the earth is covered by oceans, which are home to most of the life on earth, including the blue whale, the world’s largest animal. They’re also a major source of food and crucial to regulating the weather, and the quality of the air we breathe.
But pollution is playing havoc with the world’s seas and waterways. About eight million tonnes of plastic is dumped into the ocean each year – it’s even been found as deep as 11 kilometres – contaminating corals, putting marine animals at risk and entering the food chain. By 2050, it’s thought there will be more plastic in the sea than fish.
“We are forming citizens,” Ferreira, a marine biologist and a leader in the Portuguese Catholic Scouts, explains later about why Scouts should be tackling this growing environmental problem. “I want them to take to their communities the concern about plastics and litter in the ocean, and to make well-informed choices. The best way to change behaviour is to be aware and informed.”
The programme was part of this year’s Roverway in The Netherlands, giving young people an opportunity to think about how to tackle the growing problem of waste.
Overlooking a canal in The Hague, on a searing summer’s day, a small team of Scouts is huddled around a table in the shade fiddling with a CD, a motor, a battery, some pieces of tubing and a bucket. They’re trying to create what they’ve called a Scoutbin to filter waste from rivers and lakes, plugging the gaps with wax to make it watertight. The project was inspired by the Seabin, a floating recycling device that can filter microplastics as small as two millimetres from marinas, lakes and rivers.
“It’s very experimental,” says Felipe Velosa, who studied engineering and devised the programme along with Ferreira. While the two of them created a prototype Scoutbin made from recycled materials, they encouraged the Rovers to experiment, and some modified the design in the hope of making the drum simpler and more effective.
Among the Rovers, who come from across Europe, the discussion is becoming more animated. They switch between English, French and Spanish, and tinker with the design, waiting for the wax and glue to dry so they can test it out. Another group, who’ve called themselves the “Rubbish Robbers,” bursts into song. “Wake up, get out, save the planet now!” they chorus, banging out the beat on cans, cardboard, and a discarded polystyrene box they’ve mounted on the handlebars of a bicycle.
“Even if they don’t complete the Scoutbin the main task is for them to identify areas where they can act and come up with solutions that are a bit out of the box, thinking for themselves,” Velosa says. “Anyway to help the environment is good and if it’s a way to make something out of rubbish and teaching young people to make an impact in their countries, I think that’s what Scouting is about.”
The team squats down by the side of the canal and lowers the bin gently into the water. They wait nervously as they connect the battery. The machine whirrs to life, water is sucked in through the bucket and spouts out the other side. There’s a momentary sense of relief. Then it sputters and dies.
The Scouts pull the bin out of the water, return to the table and start taking the device apart. They’re not giving up. On the bin or the planet.