Seeing value in waste
from Moritz Reitschuster
Migration and pollution
Chios has seen around 200.000 refugees arriving on its shores over the past two years. The rubber dinghies which people use for crossing from Turkey are regarded as disposables by the smugglers and are usually left behind on the beaches. Locals and international volunteers always made an effort to dispose of the boats, lifejackets and discarded clothes after landings. However, during that time up to 1.500 people landed in a single night, many of them in remote and inaccessible areas. There was simply no way to keep track, let alone to clean up everything that was left behind.
When the number of arrivals dropped in spring 2016, the full extent of the environmental impact became apparent. The team decided to address the issue systematically, mapped all the affected areas along the eastern shore of Chios and started cleaning beach by beach. Besides reducing the environmental impact, the goal is to support the local population of Chios in dealing with the challenging situation and to help bring tourists back to this beautiful island.
The project is coordinated by CESRT, supported by the Basque rescue and medical team Salvamento Marítimo Humanitario and carried out by local, international and refugee volunteers.
Hundreds of kilos of recyclable material
Many dinghies were buried under seagrass and sand, entangled between rocks or even trapped under water. Getting them off the beaches required creative solutions like moving massive rocks, improvised rope hoists and even some freediving. The boats were then cut into pieces, washed and transported to the CESRT warehouse where the material was checked for damage, sorted and prepared for transport. By August 2016, the entire eastern shore of Chios was cleaned and a first batch of hundreds of kilos of recyclable material was sent to mimycri. CESRT continues to clean up after each landing and to collect recyclable material.
Seeing value in waste
When Nora and Vera first approached us with their ideas for mimycri in April 2016, we were immediately on board. We had just started the beach cleaning project and while we realized its importance, it was rather demotivating seeing all your work literally ending up in a landfill. That changed with mimycri – we started seeing value in what we previously saw as waste. The vision of it eventually becoming a useful and beautiful product kept us motivated to dig out boat after boat during the summer heat.
Personally, I’m very happy to now see this vision being realized. Just as for their former passengers, these boats are fraught with memories for me. mimcyri products preserve those memories and stories, but they also remind us of the possibility to start writing a new story.
Moritz first got involved with the refugee crisis in September 2015, taking part in several volunteer relief missions to Croatia, Serbia and mainland Greece. He then went to the Greek island of Chios and ended up spending most of the next eight months there. As a coordinator for CESRT, he was responsible for shore response operations and the beach cleaning project. After going back to Germany last August he became Operations Manager for IHA, a volunteer-based humanitarian organisation active in Greece and the Balkans.