Lisan Kox: “There should be more cooperation between boat manufacturers, customers and the Marina’s”

Thuishavens is a Business Angel of the Plastic Soup LAB. We talked to Lisan Kox, the manager of one of the harbors in the Netherlands to learn more about their commitment with the environment and their mission together with the LAB. 

Lisan Kox has been the manager of Marina Muiderzand for 12 years now. “I am 47 years old and live with my husband and three Border Collies at the Marina. The Marina is like a little village, with its 14 tenants and approximately 1500 berths. The area in which Marina Muiderzand is located is being developed into a residential area DUIN (www.duin.nl). This means big changes for the Marina and our staff and guests as we used to be on the outskirts of Almere, and now we are in the centre of DUIN. These changes and new projects connected with it, takes up much of my work, as well as the optimization of the Marina. Our pontoons were 25 years old and are being replaced in a big 3 year operation”.

Thuishavens consists of four harbors on the coast of the Netherlands, managed and operated by den Daas Recreatie. The family den Daas is very interested in looking for smart solutions regarding pollution, the sea and the energy used. Not only the Marina’s but all the activities from the family are focused on sustainability. For this reason, they have been awarded with the Blue Flag and the Gold Anchor, both honoring service and environmental care.

What do you already do in terms of corporate responsibility?

At our marinas there are a few things that are already working: the toiletsare flushed with ‘grey water’ instead of drinking water, as well as the cleaning of the boats, for which we also use ‘grey water’. Plus, every time we put up a building, we pay a lot of attention to its efficiency and try to make it as much eco-friendly as possible. We have quite a large program regarding the waste management. The only thing we didn’t do until now was recycling plastic because the company who takes care of it didn’t provide that service for businesses, only if a fee was paid. Since we got in touch with the Plastic Soup Foundation we decided we wanted to get involved with recycling plastic and required our waste management company to provide that service for us in 2015. Now, fortunately, we have a container that presses the big wrapping plastic bags – there are fourteen companies working in the Marina so they use a large quantity of plastics. We also have recycling PET bins on the beaches so people can recycle the little plastic bottles. There are also plastic food containers at the reception and the supermarket which we bring to the Plastic Hero container later on. This is a recent incorporation and with it we would like to make our costumers aware of the plastic management system. Not only about the plastic recycling but also to make them aware that the paint they’re using for their boats has microbeads in it. In this sense, we thought it would be useful to start an educational program for children, who are easier to influence in this matter. On the 26th of April we have organized a big event in Bruinisse, called “More than boats” and we want to include a program for kids so we can educate our guests, because it’s not only about recycling anymore, it’s also about the products that they buy and the effects they can have. With little steps we can improve our footprint and also our customers’.

We have a Blue Flag certificate and we try to have the Blue Flag interested in the Plastic Soup Foundation, because if you have a company that’s located on the water, it’s important to take care of the quality of water for the future.

How did you get in touch with the Plastic Soup Lab?

I bumped into the article about a washing machine filter and, since we have a lot of washing machines at the Marina’s, we realized it would be a good idea to get some. We asked for more information and found out it still was in a research process. However, these sorts of solutions are ideal for us to start. Something small. We would be very interested in anything that the LAB could offer. We checked every supermarket to make sure we weren’t selling products with microbeads (toothpaste, etc). These are little easy things that we can apply to the Marina’s, this is what we look for.

With little steps we can improve our footprint and also our costumers’

We are also very interested in solutions regarding boats: they live forever until they end up sinking, and that implies a lot of chemical waste. We believe our industry should be more aware about this issue and be looking for smart solutions. There should me money invested in that, but it can only be approached from a big scope, not only from a Marina or a harbor. We are very keen to be part of any innovative idea and smart solution.

What environmental solutions have you implemented or are you working on?

A few months ago, we were on the way to implement artificial grass to the catamaran beach, but Harmen Spek, from the LAB, told us it was a no-no, as it is plastic, so we are now looking for alternatives. A couple of years ago we had permission to use weed killers but now we are not allowed to use them. We are in a nature conservation area so we are not allowed to use chemicals. We can’t mow weed, it is forbidden now. We can mow grass on the surface but, due to the fact that there are boats on it all the time, the task gets more difficult and grass doesn’t grow correctly but weed does. Therefore, we thought that if we used artificial grass so we didn’t need weed killers or mowing. But then we heard that microbeads from artificial grass end up in the water so it wasn’t a solution, we needed another solution because we still had a problem with the grass, it was hard to maintain. We strongly believe that these are the things that create awareness and also make you think that we should be working together with the Foundation and other Marina’s to solve this problem. 

Another environmental problem that we faced was the material used for the pontoons. We used to have wooden pontoons made of tropical wood. For sustainable reasons we wanted to substitute the wood with something else and now we have plastic pontoons. This is funny because they are actually very sustainable: wood deteriorates in 20 years but these plastic pontoons last 40 years. But again, it’s plastic. The LAB advised us to look for a good alternative, if there is one. So now we face an interesting discussion: tropical wood or plastic? Just thinking about issues like these makes you aware of the problem and this is what we’re trying to do at our company, more than we used to.

Our Corporate Social Responsibility is not a marketing slogan, it’s real. For example, it is forbidden to use sprays against spiders, but unfortunately some people still buy these products. We don’t use it. A few years ago we got a fine because somebody was using it in the premises of the Marina. This is why it’s very important that people understand that they shouldn’t use it only because it’s forbidden, but because it’s bad for the environment.

Regarding the maintenance of the Marina, we always try to be smart about things and look for feasible alternatives. For instance, we had grass on the outskirts of the Marina but it’s very hard to keep so we chose to use little rocks as a substitute. We choose different kinds of landscaping so the maintenance problem will be solved by using another service. We do the same with the buildings: we are going to use black bricks because it is less likely for weed to grow on dark surfaces. These are all examples of how the maintenance can be improved in terms of sustainability.

What are the advantages of being a Business Angel of the Plastic Soup Lab?

It is mainly the awareness provided to the maintenance team so we can aknowledge it and, hopefully, get people on board to spread the message. The store next door has a big wall with all kind of products that people use for the maintenance of the ships and most of them are in the not-wanted list of the Plastic Soup Foundation. But I’m sure that if there are alternatives, the shop keeper and also the customers will take them into consideration. They just don’t want to look for them by themselves. There’s also the mouth-to-mouth phenomenon between customers, which we trust will help the awareness to grow naturally, not by prohibition.

In the Netherlands there’s a law that doesn’t allow sailors to get rid of waste water in open water, they have to pump it out. Nobody does that because there is no control, it’s very difficult. We wanted to do something about it and a few years ago we implemented a new way to do it. The former pumping machine needs coins to work but we changed it so they could do it without any cost, hoping that they would be more likely to use the machine. They didn’t, because they have to go to the front of the Marina and it takes about an hour to pump out. This year we bought a new machine that is situated in the pontoon, so they don’t have to move from their boat while the water is been pumped out. It’s important that the nutrients in the water are reduced, as they make plants grow and people get tangled to the propeller and to people’s legs when swimming. That’s why waste water should be pumped out. There’s a pay-back: the water is clean and the fauna can be seen through it. This allows the customers to have a better experience at the Marina.
We hope that this machine will encourage customers to follow the law and also do something good for the environment. And we also hope to keep working with the Plastic Soup Foundation and other organizations to make products and services more sustainable. If we all put our strength together to achieve a goal I’m sure big improvements can be made. And we never did, until now.

What do you think that can be done in a better way, both globally and as a business?

There should be more cooperation between boat manufacturers, customers and the Marina’s. Some problems can be fixed very easily but it starts with the guys who build the boat. If they, for example, work on a better gasoline tank for boats, it would be easy to prevent the spill on the water, which is very bad for the environment. There are a couple of things that boat builders can improve and that we would also benefit from it. The floor where the boats are stored is unfortunately not liquid-resistant so the paint leaks and the chemicals end up in the water. This restricts many of the maintenance activities. If I could make a wish, this would be high on the list: a parking area with a liquid resistant floor for winter storage purpose. When the Marina was built 25 years ago nobody thought about it. But now if you would be building a Marina you would make a fluent-resistant space, so there cannot be any toxic spill. But not only boat builders, also paint manufacturers could be more efficient and think about improvements. There are manufacturers thinking about sustainability and solutions as alternatives for the paint, because paint has plastic but also a lot of metal in it, so it’s very damaging for the environment. I believe it is necessary to get people to cooperate and think about solutions together. Not only the manufacturer, not only the boat owner, not only the Marina. This cooperation is not present at this moment.

Is it difficult to apply solutions when not all the stakeholders are involved to make a change?

I don’t think they don’t want to, it’s just hard to find the time, the urgency. It’s a phase. It didn’t happen in the car industry either. I think we are at the beginning of something and we have to take it a little bit further, and the LAB can definitely help with that.

What are the prospects for the future?

We are very happy that the Dutch government is implementing a law on the 1st of January of 2016 banning the use of plastic bags. We were trying to convince our tenants to adopt our attitude and philosophy to stop using plastic bags, but now that it will be a law it won’t be necessary. We are also trying to get the city of Almere involved. We were trying to get a recycling station here next year. We have some rowing teams in the Marina and every year they organize an event called “Soep Roeien” to get plastic out of the shores. We’re trying to get more exposure organizing a day in Almere when people would collect their garbage on the waterside and in the water. These things are difficult because there’s a lack of time, as we’re getting ready for the new season. I’m sure this year we will find some time for it and the city will definitely get more involved. They adopt a charity each year and for this year it decided to clean up the waste from the water. We have the opportunity to make a change and to get the Plastic Soup Foundation involved.