The power of one

Often people think of environmental issues as too big to be able to make a difference as an individual. Artist Peter Smith is on a mission to change this mindset. We meet him in his workshop, where he tells us all about the philosophy behind his work: ‘the power of one’.

The World of Litter

Strangely enough, nobody saw plastic waste as an environmental issue before the year of 2012. But Peter Smith did. To raise awareness on this issue and “to enter the ports of the media like Odysseus once entered the ports of Troy”, he created an artwork in the shape of a globe, made of litter. It was a great success. The ‘World of litter’ generated 10 million media impressions and traveled through other cities in the Netherlands subsequently.

No act is too small to make a difference

For many organisations in the Netherlands, the ‘World of Litter‘ played a role in the process of acknowledging that plastic waste is a big issue for the environment. But that wasn’t enough. To really make a change in people’s mindset, Peter Smith dived into the philosophy behind the problem. “The issue is that many people believe their input is too small to make a difference. To me, the complete opposite is true. Like the flap of a butterfly’s wings, a small act can cause a hurricane of change. That’s why the logo of our foundation KLEAN is a butterfly with somewhat a hurricane inside.”



Minor effort, major effect

Picking up one piece of litter is a minor effort, but if everyone would do it – the effect would be major. Peter Smith even calculated that if 1 out of 4 people in the Netherlands pick up just one piece of litter a day, the litter problem seized to exist. That’s why Peter Smith asked people to pick up just one plastic bottle and send it to his workshop. With this, he received 100.000 littered bottles – a total of 2500 kilos of plastic. Smith will transform this amount of litter into an art piece:

“Again, it will be a Trojan Horse but this time a secret army will be hidden inside. The army consists of children who we will inform before hand on the story behind the statue. We provide them with enough ammunition in the form of arguments why it is important to pick up just one piece of litter every day. The most important argument will be: You do it out of love for your children.The idea is that the artwork will travel though the Netherlands, making a stop in every big city.”


The goal

The artwork will have the shape of a mother breastfeeding her baby to make people aware of the fact that plastic waste ends up in our food chain. The goal of the artwork is to change a mindset that not only causes the plastic waste problem but also affects the entire quality of life on our planet:

“It’s difficult to recapturethe CO2 emissions of your neighbouror to ensure that your neighbour will eat lessmeat. But it’s very easy to clean up one piece of litter that someone else has dropped. If only 25%of the Dutchwould do so, we would save about 250 million Euro – the amount we currently spend on civil servants cleaning up litter. However, the most important thing for me is that people realise that their small actions do have an impact. That’s what I call the Power of One.”

The biggest 3D printed statue in the world

Peter Smith’s art piece won’t be just an art piece, it will be the biggest 3D printed statue in the world. Guess who’s 3D printing this piece? Yep, we are! About a year ago, we started to print the first pieces. The Plastic Madonna is going to be 12 meters long, so we are printing it in separate parts. We started with the feet, pictured above. Once all the pieces are connected, the Plastic Madonna will travel though the Netherlands, stopping in the biggest cities. In every city, Smith will organise lectures and events. Want to be a part of this project? Check the website.

You think your plastic waste is useless? Not according to our experts!

The first Expert meet-up was a great success. The event was part of the Social Tech Tour organized by research institute De Waag; a series of site visits to innovative, tech-enabled social enterprises. It was the first meet-up in the series of events on our research project “van Plestik, your own plastic“.

From all over the city, experts in the field of circular design came together to exchange ideas. Among the experts were Fabeel Butt (HEMA), Bob Vos (Polimeer) and Charissa Koolen (Institute for Sustainable Packaging). The first edition was all about the following question:

How do we maximize the impact of small sustainable initiatives such as vanPlestik?

The value of plastic

After all experts had arrived, Socrates Schouten, head of Commons Lab of the Waag, opened the evening with a short introduction about the Social Tech Tour. After Socrates had introduced himself, it was time for the rest of the group to briefly tell something about themselves. Not only did all experts have to share their name and job title, but also had to tell the group about the only plastic item they would never want to get rid of. For example, Nout would never throw away a small plastic dinosaur that he got from his girlfriend during one of their first dates. This proved that plastic can certainly be of great value for people and is more than just a disposable material.



From a bad idea to a brilliant solution

After this introduction, Nout told the group of experts all about the origin of vanPlestik and the ‘vanPlestik, your own plastic‘ project. Then Sam took over with a tour through the workshop. After the tour it was time to get started with a brainstorm. The experts were divided into three groups: longterm partnerships, (circular) business modelling or communication / awareness.

Each group formulated a problem statement from a different angle via the reversed brainstorming technique. Instead of coming up with solutions for a problem, this technique is ought to create ideas to make the problem worse. This results in absurd plans that stimulate the creativity of the participants. By the means of short sketches of ten seconds each group came to their ‘worst idea’. Afterwards this idea was inverted into a good idea, that was pitched to the entire group of experts.


So, what brilliant solutions did the experts come up with?

Let’s return to the main question of the evening; ‘How do we maximize the impact of small sustainable initiatives such as vanPlestik?’ With the imput of the experts, we have gotten a little closer to answering this question. For instance, during the brainstorming session, the communication / awareness group came to the conclusion that “placing someone on the corner of the street that shouts to people that plastic is of great value” is a bad idea. A no brainer, because it’s impossible to reach a big and targeted audience this way. The idea was therefore converted into a more realistic plan. The experts in this group recommend vanPlestik to collaborate with partners with a large following. “Create interactive campaigns” was their advice. Perhaps aimed at children, because those are the ones who will determine the future.

In addition, the group ‘longterm partnerships’ came up with the idea for a consumer loyalty program to create more interaction with the customer. Consumers or businesses could contribute their waste to vanPlestik and in return get recycled products made from their waste. Conclusion: enough food for thought for us!

Want to be a part of the next Expert meet-up?

Working together with the experts has been really inspiring and gave us a lot of new insights. We are already looking forward to the next Expert meet-up, which will take place in June. Do you consider yourself an expert in the field of circular design or do you want to become one? Keep an eye on our social media channels for more details!

‘vanPlestik, your own plastic’  is  a project made possible by: Stichting Afvalfonds, Stichting DOEN, KIDV, RWS, Polymer Science Park and Gemeente Amsterdam.