It’s official: The numbers are in from the recent national effort to clean up Norway’s beaches, and more than 90,000 people took part, including the prime minister and royalty. That set a new record for the annual event that was launched in 2011.
“I found a lot of plastic from boat ropes, which can break up into small pieces and spread, with the risk that fish and birds may eat them,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg told newspaper Aftenposten as she picked up trash last weekend on the Fløksand beach in Meland, not far from her hometown of Bergen on the West Coast.
“Many of the children found hypodermic needles, which is typical waste from a large city like Bergen,” Solberg continued. “And we found a door from a safe. We found many strange things.”
So did the thousands of others who fanned out from Svalvard in the far north to Sarpsborg in the south. The beach clean-up climaxed a week of such operations, with a record 3,000 events registered and the crown couple taking part in the southern coastal town of Risør. This year’s main event took place in Haugesund, strategically located between Stavanger and Bergen and known as a center for fishing, offshore and other maritime-related businesses.
Ola Elvestuen, Norway’s new government minister in charge of climate and environmental issues, was in Haugesund to launch the main events that included hoisting up an old car that someone had simply dumped in the sea. Elvestuen called trash in the sea “probably the world’s biggest environmental problem that’s growing rapidly. It’s a huge job to turn things around.”
Public consciousness of the hazards of plastics, especially in the seas, has risen dramatically since a dead whale washed up in Norway and was found to have its belly full of plastics that likely killed it. Elvestuen claimed that 8 million tons of plastics land in the seas every year.
That’s why it was important to mobilize so many people, local organizations, businesses and not least the government to get involved. Solberg’s government is allocating another NOK 130 million (USD 16.2 million) in funding to help prevent marine pollution from trash, bringing the total this year to NOK 280 million. Some of the money will be used to support international efforts and concrete clean-up campaigns. News bureau NTB reported that the US-based Ocean Conservancy’s programs now involve nearly 10 million people in 150 countries.
This year’s “Nordic Coastal Clean-Up” found around 14,000 plastic bottles, 11,000 Q-tips, 3,000 plastic tobacco boxes and 900 discarded fishing nets. Kine Martinussen of Hold Norge Rent (Keep Norway Clean), the organization that organized the beach-cleaning efforts in Norway, said she thinks Norwegians have responded so enthusiastically to clean-up efforts because the sea is such a large part of life in Norway. “It really engages everyone,” she told newspaper Dagsavisen. “It’s nice to be part up cleaning up this problem.”
More programs loom, with clean-up events to be slated all year long. Martinussen pointed to one planned this autumn, “to clean up our forests before the snow falls” and another next spring “before the birds return.”