Tommy has been running Project Schone Schie since 2015. Project Schone Schie is a nonprofit which wants to reduce plastic litter in rivers and oceans.
“I turned a problem into a task and found a solution.” Tommy dedicates half of his time to organizing cleanups in the Netherlands and has accomplished many successes while doing so.
Tommy Kleyn is the founder of Project Schone Schie, an initiative to clean riverbanks of litter and preventing this litter to end up in the ocean (80% of ocean litter comes from land). He has been organizing cleanups in the Netherlands and has accomplished many successes while doing so (his project went viral!). Today he shares his story and tells us what he does to make sure his children can enjoy the world the same way he did.
What’s your earliest memory of the ocean?
I grew up close to the water; my earliest memory was going to the beach with my parents every Sunday. I guess that’s where it all started because you gain an understanding of the magnificence as well as the vulnerability of it.
“How comforting is it to know that there’s a huge space out there, where no people are.”
And, do you still live by the ocean at the moment? And what does it mean to you today?
I used to believe that the ocean was dangerous. Living in the Netherlands, we understand that the ocean is always close to us, because we live below sea level. When I go to the beach in Hellevoetsluis, the first thing I see is a huge dam, which can be quite intimidating. Now I find the ocean gives me peace and quiet, it’s a part of me. How comforting is it to know that there’s a huge space out there, where no people are. I can only imagine how many mysteries hide in that space. No too long ago, my wife and I moved to a house that overlooks a pond. It’s not the ocean, but at least it’s water. And I love it.
What changes are you witnessing in the ocean?
I see the litter levels rising, even though sometimes the beach seems cleaner than it used to be. I’m not sure, but the amount of litter there seems to be decreasing, which could be because of the Dutch government and local initiatives. Improvement is certainly possible, but it could be perception as well. We can’t see what is going on beneath the surface.
“Not everyone can hunt poachers or be a wildlife photographer. But everyone can do something within their reach and power.”
As an Ocean Witness, what do you do to have a positive impact on our oceans?
One day I was riding my bike and thought of my yet to be born son. I imagined him asking me why it was such a mess around the riverbanks. The next morning I decided to go back, so I took a bag and simply just started cleaning up. On my way back home, I bought some more bags and that’s how it all started. Eventually I started taking pictures of my progress and the things I had found and shared it on a simple Facebook page. People started following me and I the feedback was positive. It was an amazing feeling to know that I was actually doing something good. I turned a problem into a task and found a solution.
Eventually BBC called me for an interview. More and more people started to follow me and it became a bigger part of my life. In 2016, the local government contacted me to do a bigger cleanup. We worked together with 100 people. Some guys from Argentina gathered some footage of the project and made a video. The video went viral in the Spanish speaking part of the world and all together we reached over millions of people. Social media is a great platform for the project, because I ask people to send me pictures from their cleanup. It’s giving them the courage and motivation to do something. It doesn’t even have to be longer than 10 minutes.
2018 started off great by creating a professional video and a website. I’m going to have a lot more cleanups and I am even looking into ways to make this my life project. Several organizations are showing their support and we already have 15 sponsors. We also have a couple of new volunteers, so the response is positive and truly touching!
I want to tell my kids that I have done everything within my power to make a difference for the world they will grow up in. Not everyone can hunt poachers or be a wildlife photographer. But everyone can do something within his or her reach and power.
How does the change in the ocean affect you?
I have been given this opportunity. I have the momentum, I want to keep it. It used to be half an hour, now it is three or four hours a day. It’s tough sometimes, but I don’t want to give it up because I want my children to enjoy the world the same way I did. I’m part of the last generation that knows life before widespread littering. People get used to what they see, so they don’t see the differences and changes as clearly, especially if you don’t know what it used to look like.
“I want to tell my kids that I have done everything within my power to make a difference for the world they will grow up in.”
What do you want to say to other ocean witnesses?
I hope that in the future people will take the environmental strain into account in their business plan. If we do so, we’ll have a better chance of surviving and keeping our planet alive. We have to take collective action, today. Even when I was cleaning, people were telling me to leave that to the government and that I was not going to make a difference by myself. I understand their thoughts, but every change is one. You will inspire others and give them the confidence to act.
Tommy lives in Rotterdam, The Netherlands and is father of two children. He has his own company (Blueboost) and he runs Project Schone Schie since 2015. Project Schone Schie is a nonprofit which wants to reduce plastic litter in rivers and oceans. In 2015 his one-man action went viral and became a successful project with a lot of volunteers and sponsors. Want to join? Check out the website: www.schoneschie.nl.