Love. Not Waste.

Gaby van Wonderen is a woman with a mission: To motivate and encourage people to help clean our beaches. It’s a noble objective deserving all the publicity it can get and that’s why decided to find out what makes her tick.

Several years ago, Gaby, Bergen-based surfer girl and green purchasing manager with one of Holland’s biggest high-street names, quit her comfortable nine-to-five to launch an experiment: Love Not Waste. She had come to the miserable conclusion that wherever in the world she went to surf the waves, the beaches were littered, literally.

“Fag ends, tin cans, plastic bottles, wrappers – all the rubbish really spoilt the otherwise often idyllic scene,” she told me, “and I had an idea to change things. I sold my car, bought a van and launched my own company in the hope that I could make money by organising beach clean-up events. First of all, though, I needed answers to some pressing questions: How do I motivate people to go out and clean a beach? Why don’t they do it of their own accord? What obstacles are there? People have an aversion to picking up litter, you see, and I needed to find out why.”

One of Gaby’s brilliant ideas is ‘One Bag. One Coffee.’ Go along to Hemingway’s Beach Restaurant or blooming beach in Bergen aan Zee and ask for a One Bag One Coffee bag and off you go. Return with your bag full of waste and you’ve earned yourself a free coffee (or tea, or squash…). Isn’t that nice!

Gaby organised a research trip. Starting in Bergen, she drove her Love Not Waste van all the way down the western coast of Europe and then that of Morocco. Everywhere she went, she got the local press and authorities involved to promote her cause and rally people from the area to take part in a day’s cleaning. She was invariably welcomed with open arms, and the clean-ups were a success, but it wasn’t going to pay the bills. While talking to all the different people she met, however, ideas slowly started to crystallise in her mind.

Happy Activism

“The most important thing I learned was that I had to approach everything with a positive attitude and that that positivity would then rub off on everybody else. So, no moaning about litter, no shaming of those who leave behind their junk, just optimism, a smile and positive vibes. The other thing I learned was that people can be most easily motivated to take part in anything if you hold up a carrot, a prize at the end, something for people to take home and be proud of.

“It didn’t take long before I had the answer: The whole exercise had to be a game. The urge to win is a great motivator and with that realisation Beach Clean Bingo was born. I fashioned some bingo cards, bought a box of marker pens, designed nice looking ‘rubbish bags’ and started to organise team-building events for companies, schools and other organisations. It turns out that the competition aspect brings down barriers – people lose their inhibitions and aversion to cleaning up and really want to win. It was a game changer!”

All the waste picked up during each event is meticulously sorted so that it can be most effectively disposed of and where possible recycled. A number of very tangible examples of how the waste Love Not Waste collects is recycled is showcased on the website.

Gaby has gathered a number of dedicated volunteers around her to help out with the clean-ups and her business is slowly gaining traction; she hopes soon to expand its activities further. Already she’s organised canal clean-ups in Alkmaar and other towns, and a recent clean-up in Amsterdam ‘s famous Vondelpark was a huge success. She’s also starting to attract sponsors, so that she can continue to organise free-for-all Beach Clean Bingo events, like those on Bergen and Egmond beaches on various dates in July and August. ‘Keep the beach clean and your hair messy’ is the motto, so go along and see if you can win at bingo. Our beautiful beach will be a better place for it and you’re sure to walk away with a smile on your face!

Checkout the Love Not Waste website for sustainable ideas, recycling opportunities and more.

Photography: Gaby van Wonderen and Love. Not Waste.