Otto is a visionary, an idea machine, and a history fanatic. He knows his weak spots but chooses to focus on his strengths. That’s his advice to us all: Forget what society tells you, explore your strengths and focus on developing those. That mindset brought him to where he is now. Otto works with Plastic Whale, where he activates individuals to see the waste on the streets and in the canals and reconstructs people’s thinking to the idea that waste is valuable material. We saw this with our own eyes when we connected one of our clients to Plastic Whale and joined Otto in his boat. Our client was inspired and energised to translate Plastic Whale’s perspective into their own mission and way of working. That’s why we invited him for our Human Courage series.
Who are you without your business card?
I don’t have a business card. I’m a person who likes to do a lot of different things. I’m at my best when I have a full and diverse schedule of activities. Professionally, I spend a lot of my time at Plastic Whale. At home, I’m the father of five children, and a loving husband. I’m an active member of the local rugby club, where my children play. I cannot sit still, I like to work hard, I love to celebrate small successes, and I am a happy person.
Is rugby also a sport that you played when you were little?
I played cricket when I was a child – a sport that made me very happy. A small club, very friendly and encouraging competitions, and a great group of friends. I wanted that for my kids as well. My older kids had bad experiences with hockey and football. For my little ones, I immediately thought of rugby, and a few weeks later coincidently - which is never the case – a new rugby club for children was opened in the neighbourhood. Now I have two young children who love their sport and spending time at the club.
You say that coincidence does not exist. What does that mean for you?
I believe in energy and manifesting what you want to realise. I think that whenever you follow the energy and your gut feeling, you can set different things into motion. You choose with which energies and feelings you interact and choose what kind of situations you manifest.
Coincidence does not exist for me anymore. I know now that when something happens that seems coincidental is a sign for me to act on it. Also, I believe in listening to what my gut tells me, and act on that as well.
Can you tell me more about your work with Plastic Whale?
I’ve been working as captain for canal boat rides in Amsterdam for a long time, something I have loved doing since the beginning. At a certain moment I got connected to Plastic Whale while boating over the canals with tourists. Learning about their purpose made me want to apply as captain with Plastic Whale.
After a year I became head captain and had the opportunity to fish plastic waste in the canals with large groups of people, which has been a very rewarding activity.
Since COVID I am also involved in another project called The Company Clean-up. With small and large companies, national and international, we take the participants on the journey of plastic waste and encourage them to clean up the area in which they live for 10 minutes. The first time I was facilitating this process for a group spread over 5 different countries, I realised how much impact I made. Now again, with boating through the Amsterdam canals, I get this same feeling.
Why did you start working for Plastic Whale?
At Plastic Whale we believe in the value of plastic trash. Daily, we see people throwing all kinds of waste out of the windows of their cars or dropping it in the streets.
To change this pattern of human behaviour we give our clients a different perspective and experience. At Plastic Whale, we boat the canals. We see and experience how much waste ends up in the water, and we show them what you can do with the plastic we gather - we make boats and office furniture. We notice through these efforts that realising how much value plastic has leads to more thoughtful actions when it comes to recycling and cleaning etc.
What kind of reaction do you receive from clients?
There are two types of reactions that make me smile. The cheering and applauding we receive from bystanders are fun. The reactions of the people onboard are priceless. I always say: We infect you with a virus. That virus is called seeing waste everywhere where it’s not supposed to be. The syndrome of buying a red car and seeing red cars everywhere you go.
We need to internalise this virus. Imagine every individual would pick up and throw away 3 pieces of waste for a month. That would be the solution.
We cannot change this system by ourselves. We try to enlarge the movement and hope more people will become more aware and active when it comes to waste and its value.
What else makes you happy?
I’m a history freak. A fun fact about Amsterdam is that when the city was built the canals were destined for dumping waste. It was a stinky city.
I also created a board game about the history of Amsterdam, including many of the facts I tell my clients on the boat. All the new facts and stories I discover about the history of the world excite me.
What does history mean to you in our current time?
History inspires my way of thinking and understanding. I believe that historical patterns repeat themselves. Looking at today’s political environment and the political leaders, historical processes and patterns like fascism and populism are repeating themselves. We can learn from history and act differently.
A thing I also don’t understand is the attitude against migrants. Primarily, they’re human beings like everyone else. Second, historically seen, migrants have added a lot of value and have helped our society grow, develop, and excel. We should see migration as a positive force of change and development.
What would you tell little Otto if you could?
Forget society’s pressure and all stigmas and labels. Explore your strengths and focus on what you're good at.
I believe that every human should focus on their and each other’s strengths. Make sure you develop and strengthen the things you love doing and you’re good at. Regarding your weaknesses, find people with strengths that are your weaknesses. Help each other and collaborate. We are not perfect. We are all human.