What’s the problem really?

Have you ever noticed it? All the plastic floating, the green colour of the water, the complete absence of nature except for a few ducks and occasional dead rats and fish? Maybe not because you’ve always seen the canal in that state. And for sure, it doesn’t look like a healthy place, let alone like a suitable habitat for animals. Rather, it is an environment where only boats can thrive. Today more than ever we have to strive to reintegrate nature in cities and tackle ecological problems and climate change. Trash abounds in the canal, blown from the street by the wind or dumped in directly, overflows discharge sewage into it and its concrete bed is not welcoming for aquatic life. There are many problems but many solutions as well.

We are currently working on

Kayak outings to raise awareness

The waste problem in the canal isn’t known to all. And yet, if you walk by the canal in the city center, you can always see trash floating. Any time of the day, any day of the week. If it’s not fished out, it ends up in the Scheldt and further in the North Sea. Every year 8 million tons of plastic waste worldwide find their way into the oceans via rivers. This is a huge stream of waste, which is difficult to retreive once it is in the ocean. To raise awareness about this, we go out once a week with our kayaks to fish for plastic taking a new person along every time to reach as many people as possible.

The installation of a trash barrier

The Port of Brussels has already undertaken several actions to tackle the waste problem in the canal. But the problem is bigger than their means and there is a need for a new solution. The canal is first and foremost a transportation route for boats. This makes it an even harder nut to crack. How do you stop the stream of waste without hindering the passage of the boats? The Molenbeek lock is therefore a perfect location. The doors of the locks are closed most of the time and the boats have to wait until they open. For this reason we are currently working on the installation of a barrier covering the whole width of the canal to stop the trash and lead it to the side where it can be taken out regularly. The barrier will open every time the boats have to pass. Click here for more information. 

The green islands

The canal zone in Brussels centre is totally made out of grey, sterile and steep walls. It’s not a welcoming place for people and animals. Fish have nowhere to lay their eggs, birds cannot find sufficient food and people are kept well away from the water. This is why we propose to create a new world by installing green islands on which plants will grow, their roots hanging directly in the water. These roots will form an ideal environment for the fish to hide and lay eggs. The islands themselves will be used by birds for breeding. Walkways can be included in some islands to make a path on the water. The plants will also have a purifying effect on the water and they could help diminish the heat island effect. This way we would bring some nature back into the city with many positive effects for animals, people, the water quality and the climate. Click here for more information. 

The improvement of water quality

The quality of the canal water is bad and it’s even worse for the Senne. That is no secret but to see it with our own eyes, we took two samples and a diatomic analysis was carried out with this beautiful report as a result. The main reason for the poor quality are the many sewage overflows. Unlike many cities in France for example, Brussels has a combined sewer system, which combines sewage and stormwater collection. When heavy rains fall and the sewer is saturated, the sewage, together with the rainwater, is discharged directly in the canal. Along with the rats and waste as well since there are no roasts to stop them. This way rainwater leaves the city quickly instead of percolating into the soil. Officially overflows may function up to seven times a year but some of them in Brussels do so much more often. According to the European Water Framework Directive of 2000, the water quality of all rivers will have to be compliant with the ecological and chemical standards by 2027. To review the whole combined sewer system would be incredibly expensive but the problem of the overflows has to be tackled.

Video of the Sainctelette overflow in action

Article about number of overflow events at Sainctelette


The best kind of waste is the one that is not produced. In the meantime most of the plastic waste we produce still ends up in incinerators. We can do better. We are exploring creative ideas to recycle the plastic waste we collect from the canal.