Interview with Marcella Hansch
everwave: This is how Sustainable Marine Protection WorksCopyright: © everwave GmbH
Ms. Hansch, when did you last eat fish? Assuming you eat fish at all, I could easily imagine that you've lost your appetite given the quantities of trash that everwave's trash collection boats have been pulling out of the water since 2020.
I actually don't eat fish. Even as a child I had respect and a certain fear of fish, so I could never bring myself to eat them. And with what I know today about the burden of microplastics in fish and the issue of overfishing, I'm not likely to start eating them now.
everwave wants to stop the pollution of our oceans with floating river platforms called HiveX, with trash collection boats called CollectiX and the use of Artificial Intelligence and by means of data collection. You say marine conservation starts in our rivers, and that's how everwave is trying to prevent plastic from entering the oceans in the first place. In which countries have the river platforms and trash collection boats already been deployed? Please briefly describe the technologies used in these efforts.
Boats and platforms are intended to complement each other; while HiveX is stationary on wide rivers, calming the river's current in long channels to passively collect trash, the CollectiX boat actively goes to all those places where the platform cannot reach. By the time the two technologies work as a team, they have also been operating on their own.
In August 2020, the waste collection boat had its first deployment in Slovakia. Many more followed last year in Balkan countries and currently in Cambodia and Romania - sometimes on dams, sometimes on rivers. Our experience shows that a waste collection boat can collect up to five tons of material a day. The first HiveX, our patented river platform, has also been in test operation for a few weeks.
Thanks to crowdfunding, in 2020 you were able to clear the river Hron of trash for three days in Slovakia. Crowfunding played an essential role in the realization of your idea from the very beginning; in fact, it made the first operation possible in the first place. 230,000 euros were raised this way in the summer of 2018, which was the livelihood of Pacific Garbage Screening, everwave's predecessor association.
Since you have a focus on research, you can also apply for research funds. And you now have numerous partners on your side. From which areas do you receive support?
The second crowdfunding for the Slovakia deployment was in the summer of 2020, which was our first deployment with CollectiX. So crowdfunding actually enabled us to get started. With research funding, on the other hand, we have unfortunately not had a good experience. The applications and processes are very time-consuming and slow - as a young, agile start-up, we needed faster and more reliable support. In addition to private supporters who make regular or one-time donations to the association, we also have volunteers who help us with our clean-ups and other campaigns in Germany. Another major source of support are well-known, reputable companies that support us financially and work with our GmbH on a cooperative basis. Change is only possible if we work together, and we are delighted that companies are keen to work with us for a cleaner environment!
With everwave, according to your own statement, you "don't want to start a wave AGAINST plastic, but FOR sustainable marine protection." With everwave, plastic waste is not only collected, but also subsequently fed into a sustainable cycle. To do this, you use mechanical, thermo-chemical and biotechnological processes. What new products could the plastic waste collected by everwave be processed into?
We cannot yet say what new products will be created from the collected waste. The waste is still too dirty and decomposed for us to be able to use it directly in new products. We are currently looking in all directions to return the waste to the cycle. Among other things, as part of the EU research project MIX-UP, we are researching the question of how plastic from the environment can first be degraded with enzymes and bacteria and then reassembled into biodegradable bioplastics - in other words, we not only want to recycle plastic, but even "upcycle" it. The research project is led by RWTH under Professor Lars Blank and the Institute for Applied Microbiology (iAMB).
You also promote environmental education and want to raise awareness of environmental and marine protection among young people. How do you go about that?
That's right, environmental education is our second important pillar, because cleaning up has its natural limits and with education we can start at the source, i.e. in people's minds. For several years now, we have been on the road in schools and other educational institutions to raise awareness and motivate people to be mindful of plastics and the environment in general. The core message for students: "Plastic is not bad per se. It's people who handle it the wrong way. And that can be changed." We show how this can be done with our "EmergenSEAKits." These are our self-developed environmental education kits for elementary and secondary level 1, which contain teaching materials with experiments and are designed to fit into schools' pedagogical guidelines across subjects. It is key to our work that we not only provide children and young adults with the knowledge they need, but also inspire them. If we value our oceans and environment, we will not destroy them.
What feedback have you received on this?
The feedback is incredibly great. We have already been able to equip around 200 schools with educational cases and thus reach a large number of children. The students bring the topic into their everyday school life. One school, for example, had to switch to water dispensers because the children refused plastic bottles. This was also very welcomed by the school. We are also currently running our first international projects, for example in Cambodia. There, we have just taken over the patronage of a school that is starting a completely new approach to environmental education with our support. For us, it's great to see the waves that the issue is making and the change we can bring about.
The interview was conducted by Nives Sunara.