Kayaking in Amsterdam: a trashy romance
What pops up in your head when I say “Amsterdam canals”? For me, it means romance, coziness, and charm. I’m sure a lot of people would have the same associations. However, since I’m privileged to have been living in this city for the last four years, there are also other, not so nice things I associate with the canals: trash floating in the water. Trust me, once you start to focus on it, you cannot unsee it anymore. Luckily there have been significant improvements in the way the city tackles this issue. Dutch initiatives and non-profit organizations like Plastic Whale, Amsterdam Helpt, and Subclub Nederland are aiming to change the city’s image for the better, and offer great ways to combine fun (team) activities with collecting trash from the water.
So, why am I telling you this? It seems like the trash issue is being solved, right? Fewer tourists due to the pandemic, less trash, right? Since the tourists are the ones who pollute the canals, right?
Let me tell you about my trashy romance experience back in May 2020. We were in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic and although a lot of stores, cafes, bars, and offices were still closed, it wouldn’t stop people from sitting outside and enjoying a cold beer with friends and colleagues. It was warm outside and my partner and I were debating whether we should go SUP’ing or kayaking and decided to go for the latter. So we rented our single kayaks and paddled off to Amstelkanaal, which led us to the Rijksmuseum. From there you can easily get lost in the canals, whether intentional or unintentional. I forgot how exhausting kayaking can be; you move quickly and I can guarantee you that even though you feel like time is moving fast, it’s not. Not even 30 minutes into our little tour, we spotted some plastic bags and cans in the water and decided to collect them. Since you have free space between your legs, you could fill the space with whatever you find, and that’s what we did.
Once started, we could not focus on anything else but fishing those visible trash chunks out of the water. The romantic picture in my head of paddling in the canals of Amsterdam drastically changed and was replaced by two grumpy people complaining out loud why so much trash is floating between our kayaks. Eventually, we brought back our kayaks an hour and a half later, recycled the trash bags, and returned to our working routines the next day, forgetting what has happened the day before.
Because if you don’t take care of it, someone else will, right?
Four months later, in October 2020, still in the middle of the pandemic, my best friend, who lives and works in Brussels, invited me to come over for a weekend that included a ‘fun activity’, which she kept as a secret. Arriving at her place, I found out that we would go kayaking and pick up trash from Brussel’s canal. The Belgian initiative “Canal it up” provides kayaks for free to volunteers who, in turn, bring back the trash they fish out of the water. I was so impressed by their mission that after I was done, I looked up similar initiatives in Amsterdam. I could not find any.
Kajakkolletief was born!
This Dutch initiative, (hopefully soon sponsored by the Gemeente Amsterdam) invites you to explore the city of Amsterdam by kayaking while collecting trash from the canals. A series of inspiring stories and posts await you in the upcoming weeks that include topics around kayaking, the environment, and the canals of Amsterdam.
Follow us on Instagram for more insights @kajakkollektief.
Stay positive (to fight the climate crisis) and negative (on your Covid-test results). Together we can make a change!