Universiteit Leiden

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Academic year Biology starts with 2020 pieces less litter

The new academic year has started and with it education as well. Associate professor Dennis Claessen and Director of Education Han de Winde from the Institute of Biology Leiden devised an environmentally friendly introduction to the Leiden Bio Science Park for their students, with the help of Plastic Spotters Liselotte Rambonnet and Auke-Florian Hiemstra.

Students clean up litter and register it with the app Litterati (photo: Liselotte Rambonnet)
Students clean up litter and register it with the app Litterati (photo: Liselotte Rambonnet)

With a garbage bag in one hand and a trash picker in the other one, groups of biology students walked through the Leiden Bio Science Park in the first week of September. As an introduction of the Master Molecular Genetics and Biotechnology, the students were introduced to the Bio Science Park, while at the same time cleaning up litter and helping with scientific research. Dennis Claessen, associate professor at the Institute of Biology Leiden (IBL), had planned a walk past companies and institutions where biology students often do their internships. The idea arose from conversations with Han de Winde, Director of Education at the IBL, about substitute forms of education. De Winde is pleased with the initiative: ‘It turned out a very successful introductory activity; a good example of how the corona measures can lead to creative alternatives.’ 

Collect waste and data

The activity was set up in collaboration with Plastic Spotters Liselotte Rambonnet and Auke-Florian Hiemstra, PhD students at the IBL and Naturalis Biodiversity Center respectively. With their project Plastic Spotter, they monitor plastic pollution in Leiden with the help of volunteers. Rambonnet: ‘The students have done their best and were very enthusiastic and driven. In total, they collected and registered more than 2000 pieces of litter.’

The app Litterati collects data about litter (photo: Liselotte Rambonnet)
The app Litterati collects data about litter (photo: Liselotte Rambonnet)

In addition to the litter, the students also collected data. With the Litterati app, the master's students took photos of each piece of litter and described what they found. Rambonnet explains why this is useful: ‘In this way, they contribute to scientific research and we gain insight into the type of litter at the Bio Science Park and where the hotspots are. We already understood from the initial reactions of the students that they found a lot of cigarette butts, especially around the Gorlaeus building. Unfortunately, few people realize that the butts contain plastics, nicotine, heavy metals and other chemicals that do not break down in nature and are harmful to soil and aquatic life.’

Non-smoking area

Eventually, the data ought to contribute to the prevention of litter such as cigarette butts. Plastic spotter Hiemstra explains: ‘Since the first of August, smoking is no longer allowed on the grounds of Leiden University. This may mean that people start smoking in places where there are no ashtrays and even more butts may end up in the environment. Everyone can do their bit by preventing litter, and by cleaning up and mapping it.’

Do you want to help and collect data about plastics polluting the water?

Go to the Plastic Spotter website
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