Successful Litter Clean-Up Day Across Iceland

Plokk trash litter garbage cleanup

Around 1,000 people participated in Iceland’s annual litter clean-up day (Stóri Plokkdagurinn) yesterday. Some volunteers in the Reykjavík capital area filled large garbage bags in a matter of 15 minutes. One volunteer says Icelanders are not huge litterbugs and it’s the island’s strong winds that contribute to spreading trash.

Iceland’s Rotary Clubs and the Icelandic Red Cross were some of the organisations that got volunteers together and helped provide equipment for yesterday’s clean up operations. Volunteers picked up all sorts of trash, including large amounts of plastic. Car parts such as windshield wipers and even licence plates were among the litter that was bagged and properly disposed of.

“Icelanders aren’t such big litterbugs,” one volunteer told RÚV. “It’s just our wind that is sometimes a big influencer when it comes to distributing trash.”

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Transparent Bags Save 1,200 Tonnes of Trash from Landfill Annually

recycling in iceland

The amount of unsorted trash that is landfilled by SORPA in the Reykjavík capital area has reduced by 18% since the waste management company began requiring customers to use transparent garbage bags. This is the equivalent of 1,200 tonnes of trash diverted from landfill per year. SORPA’s research prior to the intiative suggested that just over half of the waste taken to its sorting centres for landfilling could be diverted.

In July 2021, new rules took effect at SORPA requiring all mixed waste brought to sorting centres to be in transparent bags. The clear bags are intended to help staff at sorting centres assist customers in sorting the trash appropriately. The initiative was modelled on similar programs in other Nordic countries and is intended to “support the implementation of the circular economy, which is based on reducing waste, using things for longer, recycling, and reusing,” according to a notice from SORPA.

Read More: How Iceland is dealing with its waste

The notice states that the sale of transparent garbage bags in the capital area has increased from three out of every 100 bags to 50 out of every 100. SORPA expects the proportion to grow as awareness of the campaign spreads. The company also plans to implement an ISK 500 [$3.85/€3.49] charge for each black garbage bag brought to sorting centres.

Look What the Cat Dragged In: Plastic Bags, Mismatched Garden Gloves, and a Full Can of Beer

Birta the Cat, who resides in the East Iceland fishing village of Höfn í Hornafirði, has made headlines for being a purrfectly wonderful member of her community. Vísir reports that the frisky feline is an avid trash picker and fills up to two garbage bags a month with trash she’s collected. She’s even been awarded a grant from Blái herinn, The Blue Army environmental association, for her efforts.

Birta spends her days collecting refuse, particularly from a local construction site. “She’s come back with a lot from there,” recalled Birta’s human, Stefanía Hilmarsdóttir. “Weather stripping, for example, four times, big bags. She’s come back from there with five, six-meter [16-19-ft] strips.”

Birta litla plokkari, Facebook

Birta has also been found in pawsession of plastic bags and masks that she’s found in the area. She’s also particularly fond of lost garden gloves. Furtunately, not all of her finds are garbage. On New Year’s morning, she gifted her grateful human an unopened can of beer, which she’d lugged home in a plastic bag.

Birta litla plokkari, Facebook
Birta litla plokkari, Facebook
Birta litla plokkari, Facebook

Birta’s avid environmental efforts have not gone unnoticed. This cat has dragged in so much garbage that Stefanía recently put on an exhibition of some of her most impressive finds at the Hornarfjörður Cultural Center. On top of that, Blái herinn, The Blue Army environmental association, recently awarded Birta a grant to allow for the purchase of a GPS tracker so that people can follow her on her productive prowls around town.

The pawsitive encouragement has been a real boost for Birta.

“She gets so proud when I see she’s got something,” said Stefanía. “Just bursting with it.”

You can follow Birta’s exploits on her Facebook page, here.

Volunteers Collected 2.6 Tonnes of Trash in Nature Reserve Hornstrandir

Trash in Hornstrandir

The volunteer group Hreinni Hornstrandir (Cleaner Hornstrandir) finished its first trash clean-up round of the nature reserve Hornstrandir in the Westfjords, led by Ísafjörður local Gauti Geirsson. Russian vodka and Alaskan shampoo along with fishing equipment and plastics in all shapes and forms were part of this year’s 2.6 tonne haul. Since 2014, the group has headed annually to the area to clean up plastic, trash, and litter over a weekend. A group of twenty volunteers, mainly locals from the Westfjords, collected trash over two days this time around on June 19-20. The main bulk of the weight, close to 80%, is believed to be derived from the fishing industry such as buoys and nets.

Historically, the area has received large amounts of driftwood from all around the world. In the last couple of years, plastics have been a large part of the trash. “Fishing gear, nets, buoys, plastic packaging, containers. Every kind of plastic. You’ll find it all there,” says Gauti. “One year we found a cognac bottle with Arabic lettering, it makes no sense that it wound up in Hornstrandir. We’ve found experimental buoys, transmitters. Stuff from both sides of the Atlantic. The trash comes from all around. USA, Canada, UK, Norway, Spain, and from the whole of the North Atlantic area.”

The volunteer group along with the crew of the coast guard vessel Þór. Photo from Hreinni Hornstrandir/Geir Sigurðsson

5 years between clean-up in Hornvík

This year’s outing was a milestone trip as the first round of clean-up was now completed, by cleaning the coves Smiðjuvík, Bjarnarnes, and Hrollaugsvík. The group also headed back for a second round in Hornvík. Hornvík was originally cleaned in 2015 when volunteers picked close to two tonnes of trash in the area. Five years later, 1.1 tonnes of trash was the haul.

Gauti Geirsson started the initiative in 2014 with the goal of removing trash in the nature reserve and to raise the issue of plastic and other trash in the ocean. “What lit the spark was when I was working on passenger boats heading with travellers to the area. I was taking a French photographer to the area, and he wanted to take a photo of Hornbjarg cliff. But he was so appalled by the amount of trash in the area. He took photos of the trash instead and ended up opening an exhibition in France. I thought to myself that I had to something about it, and the idea of the clean-up came up,” Gauti says. “I needed a foreigner to open my eyes towards the issue, as I had become accustomed to it, seeing the driftwood and the trash from the fishing industry. At the time, I didn’t know any better than that these matters were in good shape, but we have to get the plastic out of there before it starts breaking down into nature.”

Gauti Geirsson along with Óli Rafn Kristinsson. Photo from Hreinni Hornstrandir / Geir Sigurðsson

“It was a matter of pride. For the first trip, it was more a case of we have been caught with our pants down and we must do something about it. Then, over time, factors such as ensuring biodiversity in the area and protecting the ecosystem come into play. There were microparticles of plastic breaking down there. We have been trying to raise awareness on this issue. There’s not only trash out on the ocean but we’re also seeing a lot of trash blow from land out onto the ocean and beaches, so people really have to watch what they throw and where,” Gauti adds.

2.6 tonne haul

Although 2.6 tonnes sound a large number, the record amount for one trip is 9 tonnes in 2018, collected by a group of 50 people. “It was a great weekend, with a particularly good group of volunteers, it’s a key to our operation to have good people with us, as it’s hard work. Yes, 2.6. tonnes are fine. One should be happy that it is not more. The main goal is that the amount decreases year from year and that the area becomes as clean from trash as possible. But note that the areas we covered this time around are not large in size, as most of them were relatively small coves,” Gauti says, referring to Smiðjuvík, Bjarnarnes, and Hrollaugsvík.

Geir Sigurðsson with a haul. Photo from Hreinni Hornstrandir

Starting a movement

The group hopes that the Hornstrandir clean-up raises awareness of trash in the ocean. “Plastic in the ocean is a large problem, and especially so for a fishing nation such as Iceland. The plastic particles end up in the fish, which we export to other countries. Who wants to eat a fish full of plastic? So, all kinds of factors started to come into play once we dove deeper into the subject,” said Gauti, who studies at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromso. He hopes that others may follow suit around the world and organize clean-ups in their local area. “It’s for self-motivation as well. I was 22 when I started this, and if a 22-year-old wants to make a change in the world he should just do it – rather than waiting for someone else to do it. To inspire others to take on issues such as these. If everyone does their part, the workload is not too heavy,” Gauti says.

“I want to encourage people to do what they can. Both in daily consumption and in caring for the environment. And to clean up trash. It does not need to be a full-scale clean-up with a coast guard vessel by your side. It is just as effective to clean 10 kilograms of trash in your local beach as it is here in Hornstrandir,” Gauti states.

A mound of trash in Smiðjuvík beach. Photo from Hreinni Hornstrandir/Geir Sigurðsson

Joint operation with Coast Guard

As the area is a nature reserve, it takes some effort to remove the trash from the isolated beaches. “The trips vary each year, depending on the surroundings as Hornstrandir is a diverse area. Fishing nets and ropes get stuck in sand beaches while plastic containers and buoys are wedged in between large stones in more rocky beaches. The group has been comprised of between 20-50 people, depending on the size of the clean-up area,” Gauti adds.

Icelandic Coast Guard assisting the volunteers. Photo from Hreinni Hornstrandir/Geir Sigurðsson

The Icelandic Coast Guard assists with the clean-up and has done so since 2015. “It’s fantastic to have the Coast Guard with us. We could not do it without them. It can create a certain uncertainty, however, as they could be called upon for assistance elsewhere at any time. So, we’ve got a plan A, B, and C,” he says. Borea Adventures, a local tour operator, brought the volunteers over from Ísafjörður to the clean-up area, while the coast guard vessel Þór transported the volunteers back, along with the tonnes trash. Once in port, The Environmental Agency of Iceland and the municipality of Ísafjörður handle the disposal of the trash.

Hornstrandir natural reserve

Located in the Westfjords, Hornstrandir is Iceland’s northernmost peninsula and has been protected since 1975. The last locals left the area in the 1950s, leaving the area uninhabited. An area of great natural beauty and harsh weather, it is popular with hikers. Hornstrandir is home to swathes of birds in the towering cliffs, as well as being a refuge for the arctic fox.

For further news on the initiative – head to www.facebook.com/hreinnihornstrandir

Divers Collect Trash in Silfra Fissure

Two people scuba diving in Silfra Fissure

A small group of divers collected trash from the Sifra fissure in Þingvellir National Park this weekend, Vísir reports. The group started its trash-collecting project in April, diving for trash off the coast of the town of Garður on the Reykjanes peninsula. In the coming weeks, they plan to continue collecting trash in lakes and along shorelines in Southwest Iceland.

“Today, divers took it upon themselves to collect trash in Silfra and along its banks,” read a post on the Þjóðgarðurinn á Þingvöllum / Thingvellir National Park Facebook page. “On the surface, the weather was punishing for the trash collectors, but under it, everything was relatively calm. Various items were collected, such as a single snorkel and fin, beer cans, cigarette butts, and coins.”

Ants Stern and Jóna Kolbrún Sigurjónsdóttir, via Thingvellir National Park (FB)

Silfra is a fissure between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates in Þingvellir National Park. There is a diving site, renowned for its crystal-clear water and exceptional visibility, right where the two continents meet, drifting apart about two centimetres (0.8in) per year.

Garbage Piling Up During Ongoing Strike

With negotiations between the City of Reykjavík and its workers in the Efling labour union at a standstill, parents of young children are not the only ones feeling the effects of the ongoing strike. City sanitation workers are also taking part in the action. As such, many public trash cans throughout Reykjavík are overflowing and, Vísir reports, residents are being asked to take care of their own garbage as best they can.

In a radio interview on Thursday, Ragna I. Halldórsdóttir, division head of the environmental and educational division of Sorpa, the waste management company responsible for Reykjavík’s garbage and recycling, encouraged residents to take their non-recyclable household garbage to the large dumpsters that are located in many neighbourhoods or to drive it directly to one of Sorpa’s six centres in the capital area.

Ragna said that individuals can bring up to two m3 [70 ft3] of garbage directly to Sorpa and drop it off free of charge. She also said that some larger neighbourhood associations have paid for delivery vans to transport their garbage to Sorpa on their behalf.

“At this time, we just have to take care of ourselves, unfortunately,” she remarked. “Or use delivery trucks or the like.”

Ragna said that Sorpa’s contingency plan is being reviewed to determine what actions will need to be undertaken if the strike continues, as well as how to handle a large influx of garbage likely to arrive at the company’s processing stations after the strike ends.

 

“Waste Wagon” Visits Reykjavík Neighbourhoods

toxic waste truck

A special truck will be making the rounds of Reykjavík neighbourhoods to collect electronics and other hazardous waste which often ends up in landfills. The city’s waste collection company Sorpa first organised the initiative last fall in an effort to encourage residents to properly dispose of items that shouldn’t be tossed in grey bins. Mbl.is reported first.

According to Icelandic law, it is illegal to dispose of hazardous waste along with regular trash. Nevertheless, an estimated 150 tonnes of electronic appliances and hazardous waste was buried at Álfsnes, the country’s biggest landfill site, last year. Last fall, the truck collected 1,638kg (3,611lbs) of hazardous waste while making its rounds.

The collection truck will be on the road throughout April and May. It accepts hazardous waste such as batteries, lightbulbs, household appliances, construction materials such as paint and varnish, and more. As always, hazardous waste can also be disposed of at Sorpa’s year-round collection sites.

The truck’s schedule is as follows:

Árbær – Tuesday, May 7, 3.00-8.00pm by Árbæjarlaug

Breiðholt – Tuesday, April 23, 3.00-8.00pm by Breiðholtslaug

Bústaðir/Háleiti – Tuesday, April 16, 3.00-8.00pm by Austurver

Grafarholt/Úlfarsárdalur – Tuesday, April 30, 3.00-8.00pm by the drop-off centre on Þlóðhildarstígur

Grafarvogur – Thursday, May 9, 3.00-8.00pm by Spöngin

Hlíðar – Tuesday, April 11, 3.00-8.00pm by Kjarvalsstaður

Kjalarnes – Thursday, May 2, 3.00-8.00pm by the drop-off centre on Vallargrund

Laugardalur – Tuesday, April 9, 3.00-8.00pm by Laugardalslaug

Miðborg – Wednesday, April 17, 3.00-8.00pm by Sundhöllin

Vesturbær – Monday, April 24, 3.00-8.00pm by Vesturbæjarlaug

President of Iceland Takes Trash Head-On

Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, the President of Iceland, spent this Sunday morning picking up trash and litter around Bessastaðir. Bessastaðir is the official presidential residence, situated in Álftanes municipality. Guðni revealed this in a status on his Facebook page this morning.
Guðni is unhappy with the amount of trash in the area. He used the status to critique the fact that people litter in nature while also encouraging people to do better.
The status reads so:
“The beauty, the beach, and the road.
Bessastaðir is beautiful on a bright morning. That’s why it’s a shame how much trash can be found if we look in the right places. Part of it blows over here or is beached by wind and weather. Some of it is clearly thrown by people out of our cars or those who can’t be bothered taking the trash home after a walk. This is hopefully true of a small minority but that group, however, leaves behind cigarette butts, food packaging, empty bottles, and other litter.
Let’s try to do better! You out there: It should not be my role, or others, to clean up after you. Neither now nor in the future.

https://www.facebook.com/embaettiforseta/photos/a.123113791172483/1236427216507796/?type=3&__xts__%5B0%5D=68.ARDsZX4j8YHA2ZpJEaczYD6auftX-uJe1UUSHtjqrURJI1q5hTeSh1eKJ3VKMnZu8NjZxB5MehdGHlLeFAxYnNQrzLYJ3xThul-UcT8hscwWfzdbye9kf_Hu6WKNyNGar0jhCiZKbTjZDnp4F-EVMyx7HWjZ8pQn7kMH62rz2YuJTL5tDkUma1GbnNJJbHWjQ-wpdbhgpIzUqAEqxhYds6AnC-0VlnuwohmqwLP3EMTj7OZdu3JKtAnE-tDNkxgQiQybiRhencmk6fZT64dR0vQSX8AnozAKKHiVEc1lenaKHvZD_dcOcBqvgwzbfFxSdkVddy5awMmYz1UMdT2HA43Yow&__tn__=-R

Waste Disposal Disrupted in Westman Islands

Waste disposal in the Westman Islands has been disrupted since December while the Heimaey town council awaits an environmental assessment report on the environmental impact of waste incineration, Vísir reports.

Council members expressed frustration with the delay with the environmental impact report, which they say will also delay the town’s plans for the construction of a new waste-to-energy plant.

The Heimaey town council is expected to announce updated rules on waste disposal on the island next week.

Collect 9.5 Tonnes of Trash in Nature Reserve

A team of volunteers collected 9.5 tonnes of trash in Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in the northern Westfjords last month, RÚV reports. It is the fifth organised clean-up in the area, and this year’s team collected a record amount of trash. The group’s leader says they are just scratching the surface of what is washing up on Hornstrandir’s shores.

Located in the Westfjords, Hornstrandir is Iceland’s northernmost peninsula and has been protected since 1975. A team of around 30 volunteers from the organisation Hreinni Hornstrandir (Cleaner Hornstrandir) gathered trash in the area in late June. A coast guard ship then removed all 9.5 tonnes collected last weekend.

Gauti Geirsson, the project’s leader, says as much as 90% of the garbage gathered is fishing equipment, “but we also find a lot of small things that have started to break down. Ketchup bottles, shoes, all kinds of plastic objects that are being blown off the land,” Gauti stated. “Some completely new. It’s a little sad to see that and also sad to see how much it is, just unbelievable.”

The trash collected comes from around the world. Though it may be difficult to pinpoint where much of the objects are from, many plastic items come with clues such as serial numbers or logos.

Hreinni Hornstrandir has gathered 28 tonnes of trash from the reserve over the last four years. “We’re just scratching the surface, and although it’s small in the big context, if everyone contributes, thinks about their consumption, I think we can do a lot together,” says Gauti.