__ In this chapter of the Transnatural blog, we decided to explore the condition of the waterways in our base city Amsterdam, the so-called Venice of the Northern countries. The connection between Amsterdam and the waterways that run through it goes back to many centuries ago when the city thrived and expanded as one of the most important harbors of Europe. But not all waters are created equal in Amsterdam. The Amstel is the freshwater river from which the city took its name. The other canals contain both saltwater and freshwater. The saltwater comes from the Noordzeekanaal, which connects Amsterdam to Ijmuiden. The freshwater, instead, enters the canals via the Amsterdam-Rhine canal that links up the city to the River Rhine.
In the years the city has made many an effort to improve and maintain the state of its inner waterways by means of a series of legislations and infrastructural improvements. Up to the mid-19th century, all the waste produced by the city was released into the canals, as it was common at that time. As a result, the canals were stagnant, smelly and a threat to the public health of the city inhabitants. In 1879, a steam-powered engine able to pump clean water from the Zuiderzee resolved the issue of the unsanitary state of the canals. It wasn’t until the mid-’30s of the last century, though, that Amsterdam stop flushing the city’s human waste in the canals and the city was finally connected to a modern sewage system.
As the contemporary age advances the pollution motives and modus of our waters change with it. One of today’s biggest threats to the quality of freshwaters around the globe is the presence and deterioration of plastic and micro-plastic. The Amsterdam municipality has recently renewed its commitment to the cleanliness of the city’s canals.
In 2016 the initiative Amsterdam Clean Water was created to spread more awareness of the problem through the population. Waternet (the water company for Amsterdam and surrounding area) dredges the channels periodically and still fishes out around 42 tonnes of litter every year. Unfortunately, the only dredging of the canals does not prevent a big quantity of litter to enter the North Sea.
The municipality of Amsterdam has recently stepped up its game on the issue by announcing the installation of the first Bubble Barrier in the Westerdok, which is connected to through the IJ to the open sea.
The Bubble Barrier consists of a curtain of air bubbles which is created by a perforated tube placed at the bottom of the canal. The bubbles create a barrier that contains plastic waste and prevent it to reach the open sea, furthermore the plastic waste is pushed up to the surface for collection. It functions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and most importantly can help manage the smaller plastic waste (1-20mm) which is often impossible to retrieve through other collection methods. The canals become closed tanks which make the control of plastic pollution much more effective.
The virtuous goal set by the municipality is to make Amsterdam the first Plastic Smart City by the year 2050. Circular and sustainable solutions. From 2020 all the amenities used at public events will be eco-friendly including the confetti and the former plastic cups.
Written by Stephanie Busuito