Frontansicht Hafen Rotterdam mit Plastikinseln

Plastic islands to curb pollution

The Audi Environmental Foundation is combatting plastic waste in the ocean

In cooperation with the Recycled Island Foundation, the Audi Environmental Foundation has opened a floating park in the Port of Rotterdam made of upcycled plastic waste. Audi blog author Andreas Wittke talked with Ramon Knoester, founder of the Recycled Island Foundation, about why he specifically decided to create recreational islands out of the recycled plastic and why it’s so important to educate the public about environmental issues.

Menschengruppe über Plastikinseln von Recycled Island Foundation am Hafen Rotterdam
The first islands made from recycled plastic can be found on the Nieuwe Maas river. The floating park located in the Port of Rotterdam is the first of its kind.

In the middle of the Port of Rotterdam, surrounded by gray buildings, small green islands are popping up on the Nieuwe Maas river, which flows there into the North Sea. If you look closely, you’ll see insects buzzing around and birds flying to their nests while snails, crabs, and small fish gather on the bottoms of the landscaped islands. Only when you look very, very closely will you notice that these islands are made of recycled plastic. What’s going on here?

In cooperation with the Audi Environmental Foundation, the Recycled Island Foundation filtered plastic waste out of the Nieuwe Maas using collecting basins that they designed themselves. The plastic waste was then sorted and used to create floating plastic islands.

The Recycled Island Foundation creates recreation areas

The landscaped islands now serve as recreational areas for port visitors and local residents and — most importantly — as a safe haven for animals. The individual components are built at different heights using a permeable structure. This way, small animals living in the river can easily swim in and out of the islands, allowing them to, for example, spawn in the safety of the root systems. On the higher islands, birds nest in direct proximity to islands that are equipped with benches for passers-by. The plastic islands are largely there to make the public aware of the true extent and the consequences of plastic that is carelessly thrown away. By upcycling the plastic that the foundation collects, Ramon Knoester wants to encourage people to be more conscious of how they handle their plastic waste. The founder of the Recycled Island Foundation explains the reasons behind his project and the goals he has for it.

Ansicht Plastikinsel von Recycled Island Foundation

That's one of the litter traps that collects waste for the creation of the plastic islands. A single plastic island has a surface of 5 square meters, the total surface of all the plastic islands amounts 140 square meters.

What gave you the idea for the plastic islands?

Ramon Knoester: I heard about the devastating plastic pollution in the oceans for the first time about twelve years ago. Even back then, I thought that something should be done to combat the problem. Then, four years ago, I had the opportunity to create the Recycled Island Foundation thanks to a contact I had to the city of Rotterdam. My thought was that most plastic makes its way into the ocean via rivers — so we need to start with the rivers. The Nieuwe Maas is a key area as far as pollution in the North Sea goes. If we could improve the ecosystem in the Nieuwe Maas in Rotterdam, just that would have a significant impact.

What role does Audi play in this project?

Knoester: The Audi Environmental Foundation approached us this year and wanted to establish a cooperation with us. They liked the concept of working with environmentally sustainable technologies to reduce the presence of plastic and improve quality of life for people and animals. It was perfect timing for us, because we had developed our project to such an extent that we were ready to roll it out internationally. The Audi Environmental Foundation doesn’t just support us financially; they also help us with their expertise. Together, we will be able to make many new projects a reality.

In July 2018, you and the Audi Environmental Foundation opened the islands to the public. How many are there so far?

Knoester: So far there are 28 islands in the water — a total of 140 square meters. The islands are portable and can be anchored anywhere, which makes them very versatile. They can be used as a place to relax during a lunch break, or as a stage or audience platform for open air concerts right there in the port.

Frontaufnahme Personen auf Plastikinsel von Recycled Island
Ramon Knoester (second on the right) is the founder of the Recycled Island Foundation. He is committed to creating a liveable future for humans, animals and plants alike.

Have you been able to reduce pollution in the Nieuwe Maas with your project?

Knoester: We’re off to a good start. With the help of about 30 volunteers, we really collected a lot of plastic during “clean up” events and filtered it out of the river with our collecting basins. Over 90 percent of plastic waste is floating in the first meter below the water’s surface; in fact, the majority of it is found in the first half-meter. So the outlook is good; the pollution has already been significantly reduced.

What kinds of plastic have you fished out of the water?

Knoester: We found practically every kind of plastic — from micro-plastics, to PET bottles, to soccer balls. In the Netherlands, we only have a deposit on bottles that are one liter or larger, which makes the waste problem even worse.

Seitansicht Recycled Island Foundation Hafen Rotterdam

Not all plastic is the same: green moss and meters with a height of several meters can be grown on the small islands.

What were the reactions to your plastic islands?

Knoester: We have received a lot of positive feedback from all over the world. People like the idea and are excited to see how we’ve made something so attractive and useful out of trash. The residents of Rotterdam like the fact that their city is a trendsetter in this regard. It has also caused other cities to prick up their ears, and we are now in contact with them about creating other similar projects.

What plans do you have for the future?

Knoester: Our collecting basins will next be installed on the Indonesian island of Ambon and in Brussels. But we are also researching suitable installation locations for other cities. For example, it’s important that the collecting basins are located where the volume of plastic waste is greatest; they also need to be placed so that they don’t cause problems for ship traffic. Our partnership with the Audi Environmental Foundation is for the long-term.

Recreational areas made from recycled plastic

The Recycled Island Foundation and the Audi Environmental Foundation have opened up a so-called “floating parc”. They used collecting basins to filter out plastic and used it for the production of the islands. By now, the floating islands can be used by all visitors coming to the port. The planning for other basins in Brussels and Ambon (located in Indonesia) have already begun.

A busy bridge: the plastic islands are popular among the locals.
Relaxing in a green environment: two guests have curled up on the plastic island.
Due to the cooperation with the Recycled Island Foundation, Audi has left a mark in the Port of Rotterdam.

A busy bridge: the plastic islands are popular among the locals.


Relaxing in a green environment: two guests have curled up on the plastic island.


Due to the cooperation with the Recycled Island Foundation, Audi has left a mark in the Port of Rotterdam.

Audi Environmental Foundation turns plastic waste into recreation areas
Audi MediaCenter

Audi Environmental Foundation turns plastic waste into recreation areas

Together with project partner Recycled Island Foundation, the Audi Environmental Foundation opened a floating park in the Rotterdam port of Rijnhaven on Wednesday. To create the park, the project partner filtered plastic waste out of the New Meuse River with the aid of specially designed collecting basins. The waste was then sorted and made into floating plastic islands. The landscaped islands now serve as recreation areas for port visitors and residents.

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Makhosi Khuzwayo

15. April 2019 um 8:06
This is incredible idea, I like it!!!!!! Plastic pollution is one of the major issues in country especially affecting the aquatic life. Thank you Audi to take part in a solution.