Waste in Copenhagen Harbor

By Eric Ziengs

Last updated December 21, 2022

Copenhagen Harbor is a big blue urban park with space for many different stakeholders. As daily users of the harbor, we have a responsibility to take good care of the water and each other, so that everyone can travel safely and securely. In addition, we also have a responsibility to take good care of the harbor itself, so that it can continue to be used for recreational activities. At the same time, we must take care of animal and plant life and reduce the amount of waste in Copenhagen Harbor.

The clean waters of the harbor

200 stand up paddle boards, 6000 members of kayak and rowing clubs, 600,000 passengers on the harbor buses and 100,000 guests in rental boats annually. In addition, there are canal cruises, private boats, bathers, restaurants on the water and people staying along the quay. There are many of us who make use of Copenhagen's recreational harbor.

The harbor has become an important meeting point for Copenhageners as well as tourists all year round. In 2018, Copenhagen was voted by CNN as the world's best harbor city. Interest in using the harbor's blue free space has grown explosively in recent years.

Copenhagen Harbour Winter Trash Sorting Sustainability Clean Water Islands Brygge Boat Rental GoBoat

Until the mid-1990s, the harbor water was heavily polluted, and bathing and fishing was prohibited. The reason why the water in Copenhagen Harbor is so clean today, among other things, can be found under Kvæsthusbroen and at Dampfærgevej on Østerbro. Large underground pools are located here. This is where rainwater and sewage is directed when the sewers are about to fill up. In this way, the dirty water lies and waits for space to become available in the sewers before it flows on to the filtration facilities. HOFOR, in collaboration with Copenhagen Municipality, has established 12 pools, the largest of which is the Colosseum. The Colosseum has a volume of 30,000 m3, equivalent to 12 Olympic swimming pools.

However, the harbor will not remain clean if the amount of waste increases. An increased amount of rubbish in the harbor may, in the long term, result in it once again being forbidden to bathe and use the harbor. Therefore, we should all make an effort to prevent this. At GoBoat we do our best to take care of the harbor and nature, and therefore we also ask our guests to sort their waste after the sailing trips.

Where does the waste come from?

The majority of plastic waste in the world's oceans comes from land-based activities such as open dump sites, industry, untreated sewage and tourism that leave litter on beaches and shores. But the waste also comes from activities at sea such as container transport, cruise ships, oil and gas platforms, illegal dumping at sea and fishing equipment left behind such as nets and lines.

Facts about waste in the sea

– 4-12 million tons of plastic are discharged in the world's oceans every year.
– In 2050, the plastic in the oceans could weigh more than the total number of fish in the 7 world oceans.
– In 2020, 299 bicycles were collected from Copenhagen Harbor.

Debris in the oceans can travel thousands of kilometers. The amount of waste in Copenhagen Harbor therefore depends, among other things, on wind and current direction, as the waste can enter from outside the sea via Øresund. But the amount of waste in the Port of Copenhagen depends to an equal extent on which and how many events are held along the harbor.

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During Summer, there is often more litter because a lot is left along the quay. For example, on a warm St. Hans Eve, as Copenhageners gather in and around the harbor. This will mean more waste left behind that ends up in the harbor. Strong winds mean more debris is blown into the water. Because there are many users of the harbor, waste unfortunately ends up in the water. Plastic mugs, candy wrappers, beer cans, mobile phones, music systems and cafe chairs are just examples of what can end up in the harbor because we use the harbor and the areas around the harbor.

The sun and the sea slowly breaks down the plastic that ends up in the harbor. When the plastic breaks down into smaller pieces, it becomes microplastic. Microplastics cannot be seen with the naked eye as they are smaller than five millimeters. Microplastics are so small that fish can mistake them for food, and the plastic can therefore become part of the food chain. Too much microplastic can also cause fish to die. In Copenhagen Harbor there are, among other things, sea trout, cod and hornfish, and you must therefore be aware, especially as a fisherman, that the fish may contain microplastics.

The most contaminated products

The environmental organization Plastic Change has carried out a study that shows which brands and manufacturers whose plastic products are thrown away the most in Danish nature. The top-5 list consists of Stimorol, Prince (tobacco), Kinder, Tuborg and Haribo and McDonalds in joint fifth place. The Top 5 list says something about the fact that the majority of the rubbish that ends up in nature is packaging from products that satisfy a temporary need when we are, for example, in and around the harbor. Unfortunately, the packaging from these products often ends up in nature rather than in the bin.

The waste in the harbor creates problems

  • The animals can be caught up into the waste. This can result in them both being prevented from consuming food or getting stuck in other things due to the waste they are entangled in. Stuck animals can thus suffer a slow and painful death.
  • The waste can destroy habitats. In Copenhagen Harbor, habitats and important feeding chambers such as eelgrass beds, lush rock reefs and mussel banks are degraded when they come into contact with plastic.
  • The animals are exposed to chemicals, which can be fatal for them.
  • Humans are exposed to chemicals through the food chain. Some of the substances that bind to plastic are the so-called POPs (persistent organic pollutants). Among other things, POPs are suspected of causing hormone-disrupting effects, cancer and damage to the immune system and nervous system.
Copenhagen Sustainability Waste Trash Clean Harbour GoBoat

What can we do to prevent waste in the harbor?

First of all, it is important that we throw waste in bins and not in the streets or in the water.

Green Kayak - collect waste from a kayak

Several different measures have been set up to combat waste in the port. One of them is Green Kayak, a non-profit initiative which aims to reduce the amount of waste in Copenhagen Harbor. Here you can borrow a two-person kayak for free - if you collect rubbish along the way. Read more about Green Kayak here.

The Starfish Mission - teach the children to fight litter in the harbor

At GoBoat, we also want to do our best to look after our harbor. That is why we send children off on The Starfish Mission. Among other maritime, fun and educational activities, the children also have the task of catching sea bandits. The children get fishing nets on board and must catch Mr. Skodsen (cigarette shutters), Folie Finn (plastic bags), Skrot Åse (cans) and Plast Bisse (plastic bottles). The children also learn the importance of looking after our environment. You can add the Starfish Mission when you book online here.

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World Cleanup Day – joint effort against waste in nature

GoBoat has participated in World Cleanup Day for several years, and in 2020 more than 26.5 tons of waste from Danish nature was collected across the country. Our guests made a great effort and collected trash along the way on their sailing trip. The revenue of that day went uncut to our partner Plastic Change, which is an environmental organization working towards a cleaner world without plastic pollution.

Seabinen – floating waste bins in the harbor

In addition, two floating marine waste-bins have been installed in Nyhavn, which lie on the surface and absorb waste. The so-called Seabins suck waste and water into a bag inside the Seabin. This is done using a pump which has a capacity of 25,000 liters per hour. The water is then pumped out of the Seabin, leaving the waste trapped in the waste net. A Seabin can capture particles down to 2 mm, and can thus also capture microplastics. It is expected that the two sea bins can annually collect around 1825 tonnes of waste from the water surface. The two Seabins have been installed by Stromma in collaboration with the WWF World Wildlife Fund and By & Havn.

By & Havn collects the waste from the two SeaBins three times a week with the waste boat, Tangloppen. Tangloppen sails around the harbor and collects waste and detached seaweed by lowering a large cage into the water. The cage is open at the front and filters the rubbish from the water.

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Joint fight against waste in Copenhagen Harbor

Der er flere forskellige aktører, der går ind i kampen mod affald i havnen. Alle bør There are several different stakeholders involved in the fight against waste in the harbor. Everyone should think about where we leave our waste and in general how we handle waste. Figures from the Danish Environmental Protection Agency's waste statistics show that the total percentage for recycling and for other final material utilization has increased from 68% in 2017 to 72% in 2018. This shows positive progress, and we must stand together to increase this percentage further.

You can always ask to borrow a fishing net to fish for waste in Copenhagen Harbor when you go sailing with GoBoat. Just ask when you check in. We call it Trash Pirates. We will dispose of the waste when you return.

Frequently asked questions

How can I collect rubbish in the harbor on a sailing trip?

At GoBoat, we offer that you can take fishing nets out on the boats as well as rubbish bags, so that you can collect rubbish you encounter on your way. We have bins where the waste can be thrown away after the sailing trip.

How can I be part of World Clean Up Day?

World Clean Up Day is free to participate in and requires that you take your loved ones to the water and pick up trash on this day. It is a good idea to use fishing nets for this, which you e.g. can borrow from GoBoat.

Is Copenhagen's harbor clean?

The Port of Copenhagen is one of the cleaner ports, which is also the reason why it is allowed to swim in the port. But it also needs to be kept clean - it's always good to help keep the harbor clean