Biography Merijn Tinga - Plastic Soup Surfer

Merijn Tinga

Merijn Tinga (Leeuwarden, The Netherlands, 1972) is a Dutch biologist, kitesurfer and environmental activist.

As the Plastic Soup Surfer, he has focused on stopping pollution from plastic waste, the cause of the plastic soup, since 2014. His kitesurfing and sup expeditions have contributed to the introduction of a deposit on small plastic bottles (July 1, 2021) and cans (end of 2022). He also managed to use tens of thousands of photos, collected with an app, to end the sale of products that lead to a lot of plastic litter. He was the first to use a Judicial notice for this purpose, a legal document that a bailiff handed over to CEOs of retail chains, soft drink and candy manufacturers.

Filmmaker Eelke Dekker has made documentaries of some of the expeditions and campaigns that have been broadcast by National Geographic.

He wrote the book Plastic Soup Surfer. Hoe één persoon verschil kan maken (Dutch, released June 2021). In this book he tells about, among other things, the expeditions and the political and legal actions that contributed to the introduction of deposits on small plastic bottles and cans.

Tinga is a jury member for the Trouw Duurzame Top 100.


Tinga went to Zernike College in Groningen, studied biology at Leiden University (completed in 1996) and became a biology teacher.

In 2001 he gives up his job and cycles to Morocco and back, with a kiteboard behind his bicycle. It is during that trip that he decides to become an artist. Back home he starts an art collective together with Joost Haasnoot by the name of K.U.T. (Kunst Uitschot Team). They become known locally by their large wooden sculptures which they illegally place in their home town Leiden. After dissolving the art collective in 2010, Tinga moves into his own art studio.

Birth of the Plastic Soup Surfer

As a passionate kite surfer Tinga is annoyed by all the plastic waste he sees on his local beach, as a biologist he is familiar with the harmful effects on marine life. In 2014, he decides to combine 2014 art and activism: he calls himself The Plastic Soup Surfer, creates his first plastic soup board from plastic litter in his studio, and makes a kite surf tour along the Dutch and Belgian coast, 350 km, to draw attention to the problem of plastic litter and the plastic soup.

In the summer of 2015, he sails along the coast of Scandinavia for five months, hunting for plastic waste (video Plastic Hunters). During this trip, Tinga realizes that cleaning up is not the solution. The problem of plastic pollution can only be solved by a reduction of products and packaging that end up in the environment as plastic litter. He decides to focus on the sources of plastic pollution.

Deposit money plastic bottles and cans

In the period 2016-2020, Tinga is campaigning as Plastic Soup Surfer to achieve a deposit on small plastic bottles and cans through various expeditions and campaigns. Central to this is the Plastic Soup Surfer petition motion, which he will present to parliament on February 14, 2017.

Kitesurf North Sea crossing record attempt

Tinga drafts this petition, which should lead to a deposit on small plastic bottles, a year earlier, with the intention of presenting it to parliament with at least 40,000 signatures.

To draw attention to this and collect signatures, he crosses the North Sea in 2016 on a hydrofoil -kiteboard made from plastic littered bottles, in an attempt to enter the Guiness Book of Records (first North Sea crossing by foil kite). On September 2, 2016 he kitesurfs from Scheveningen, The Netherlands to Lowestoft, England. The crossing is successful, however, due to a sudden temporary calm in the wind off the coast of England, Tinga only just misses the record. Partially due to all the attention for the record attempt, Tinga collects over 40,000 signatures for the petition.

Eelke Dekker made a documentary about this expedition: Message on a bottle 

Adopted Plastic Soup Surfer petition motion

On February 14, 2017, Tinga goes to the parliament with the Plastic Soup Surfer petition motion and 55,000 signatures. The motion calls for "90% less plastic litter bottles within three years." Right then and there, the representatives of all major political parties sign the resolution. Because the word "deposit" does not appear in the resolution, opponent parties such as the CDA and VVD have no reason for not signing the motion. Two days later State Secretary Sharon Dijksma adopts the motion. This is the first time that a motin written openly by a citizen is adopted by the cabinet.

Video about the political process of the adoption of the motion (Dutch)

In 2018, the motion is used by State Secretary Stientje van Veldhoven for a 'two-track policy': deposits will be introduced if the business community fails to achieve a 70% reduction in litter bottles within three years.

Stand up paddle trip down the Rhine 'From source to sea'

Tinga wants to keep the subject of plastic pollution high on the agenda. With an expedition in the summer of 2017, he again manages to attract media attention: a stand up paddle expedition down the Rhine, from the source to the estuary, on a sup board made from littered bottles. This board was developed by the Science Center of TU Delft. As Plastic Soup Surfer Tinga completes the trip of over 1000 kilometers on the Rhine in 28 days.

Eelke Dekker made the documentary From Source to Sea (2018) about this expedition. It is broadcasted by National Geographic, among others.

Bailiff and Judicial Notice

During this expedition Tinga collects the plastic waste he finds along the way. In order to hold the producers of the pollution accountable and encourage them to find solutions, Tinga develops a new strategy: using a bailiff with a Judicial notice. This legal instrument is a ‘declaration of awareness’ by which companies are formally informed of the pollution, dangers and consequences of the litter as a result of their products or packaging. From that moment on, a company cannot claim to be ignorant of this. Wikipedia Judicial Notice

With the bailiff to retail chains and manufacturers

After the end of the sup expedition down the Rhine, Tinga assigns bailiffs to hand over the ‘judicial notice’ to the CEO’s of companies that oppose deposits. This way he gets access to the boardrooms of supermarket chains and soft drink manufacturers. The latter appear to be reasonably sympathetic to deposits, but the supermarkets still fiercely oppose. Various radio and TV programs report on the campaign and the disagreement behind the scenes.

Documentary from Hart van Nederland about a visit with the bailiff to Retail Company Albert Heijn (Dutch TV)

First 3D printed surfboard from plastic waste

For a new expedition in 2018, Tinga builds the first 3D printed windsurf board from plastic waste in collaboration with 10-XL, which produces 3D prints from recycled plastic. He uses this for his eight day windsurf expedition from Le Havre, France, to Scheveningen, The Netherlands in the summer of 2018. His arrival inn Scheveningen is the starting signal of World Cleanup Day Netherlands.

Introduction of a deposit

In 2020 it becomes clear that the business community is unable to reduce plastic litter by 70% within a three-year period. This gave State Secretary Van Veldhoven in 2020 sufficient reason to decide to introduce a deposit on plastic bottles on 1 July 2021.

The business community also failed to reduce litter from cans. In February 2021, Van Veldhoven decides to introduce a deposit on cans as of 1 January 2023.

Interview with State Secretary Stientje van Veldhoven in the 1st Plastic Talkshow in February 2021 (Dutch)

Plastic polluting products out of the stores

Collaboration Dirk Groot and Plastic Soup Surfer

As of 2018, Tinga, as Plastic Soup Surfer, is also taking another route to combat plastic pollution from disposable products: collecting photos of plastic litter as evidence of the pollution and taking the bailiff to the producers or retail companies to get them to find solutions.

Dirk Groot's Top 10

He does this together with Dirk Groot, who fights against litter under the name 'Zwerfinator' and was elected number 1 in the Trouw Sustainable 100 of the year 2019. Groot charts the distribution of litter and compiles an annual Top 10 of the most frequently found litter in The Netherlands. Groot and Tinga decide to focus on the highest scoring products.

Anta Flu wrappers (throat lozenges)

The first company is Pervasco, producer of Anta Flu throat lozenges (2018). Groot asks litter pickers to send him photo’s of littered Anta Flu wrappers and within a year, Groot collects 16,000 photos of littered wrappers. Groot en Tinga, together with a bailiff, go to Pervasco and let the bailiff hand over a judicial notice to the CEO. He immediately pledges to make the wrappers out of biodegradable material and in 2020 Pervasco switches to wrappers made of waxpaper.

More about the Anta Flu campaign

Blast Plastic resolution and Motion

In November 2019, Tinga and Groot focus on crackling balls, category F1 fireworks that may be sold year-round. Children set these off and usually leave the plastic shards on the ground. Tinga and Groot want to stop the sale, collect thousands of photos and, in cooperation with the Leiden Advocacy Project on Plastic (LAPP) of Leiden University, prepare a lawsuit against the selling retail companies in November 2019.

But soon after, two weeks before New Years Eve, the major retail companies stop the selling of crackling balls from their shelves. If, as a result, the ground under the lawsuits lapses, Tinga and Groot draw up the Blast Plastic Resolution. By signing this, companies indicate that they will immediately stop selling crackling balls and will no longer sell fireworks with plastic components as of January 1, 2021. This is signed by almost all category F1 fireworks selling retail companies.

More about Operation Crackling Ball.

Meanwhile, parliament has also adopted the Blast Plastic Motion, which had been submitted by GroenLinks MP Suzanne Kröger in November 2018. This requests the government to investigate how plastic in category F1 fireworks can be countered. State Secretary Stientje van Veldhoven is taking up this motion.

Video about the Blast Plastic Motion by Suzane Kröger (Dutch)

Splash plastic and plastic confetti

In early January 2020, Tinga and Groot develop the Plastic Avengers App together with the Dutch IT company Incentro. This is a easy to use app to monitor litter by simply making photos. A few months later, with collected photo's, Tinga and Groot manage to end the sale of plastic balloons filled with water ('splashplastic') and plastic confetti. The plastic remnants usually end up on the street or in nature.

More about Operation Splash Plastic

Dutch Radio Program Vroege Vogels reports about Operation Splash Plastic (Dutch radio)

Mars wrappers

In spring/summer 2021, Groot and Tinga are targeting the Mars company with the #MissionMars Campaign. Within a few months, they collect more than 15,000 photos. In discussions with the Mars Netherlands management, it becomes clear that Mars will not switch to biodegradable wrappers for the time being. However, in the BNNVARA program Kassa on May 1, 2021 Mars promises to come up with a solution before October 2021.

Plastic Avengers Conference

In February 2019, Tinga organizes the first Plastic Avengers Conference for the Dutch Plastic Activists community, ranging from litter pickers to NGO’s and lawyers. During the conference, over 100 Plastic Avengers draft the Plastic Avengers Manifesto, a framework for a new way of dealing with plastic. Ambassador of this Manifesto is European Vice-President Frans Timmermans.

Video: Offering Plastic Avengers manifesto to Frans Timmermans

Plastic Paradox documentary

About the expedition on a 3D printed windsurf board and the Plastic Avengers Conference, Eelke Dekker makes the 2019 documentary Plastic Paradox, broadcast by National Geographic in June 2019.

Separating waste in the classroom

In the corona year of 2020, Tinga is organizing the Bright Binners tour, a 550 km stand up paddle tour through the Netherlands, from Maastricht to Schiermonnikoog. Along the way, he visits eleven elementary schools. Pupils of these schools become Bright Binners and ask their mayor to make waste separation possible at schools.

But because this waste is legally seen as commercial waste, separating is usually too expensive for schools. To get rid of this barrier, Tinga consults with all stakeholders in the field of separating waste during the sup-expedition: the State Secretary of Infrastructure, VNG - the assocition of Dutch Municipalities, waste collectors, Waste Fund - the Packaging Waste Fund, Coca Cola, retail company Albert Heijn and Council for Primary Education. Almost all stakeholders support his Bright Binners Manifesto for separating waste in the classroom. Only the packaging industry - Afvalfonds, Coca Cola , Albert Hein and Unilever - refuses to cooperate.

A few months later, members of the Dutch House of Representatives Van Eijs (D66) and Von Martels (CDA) draft a motion to ensure that, within four years, "waste at all schools in primary education can be collected and processed separately, with separate streams for organic waste, PMD and waste paper/cardboard, at no extra cost." This motion passes by the House of Representatives on February 25, 2021.

Interview Natuur&Milieu - conversation with Jelmer Vierstra about tactics and campaigning (Dutch)

Book 'Plastic Soup Surfer'

On June 2, 2021, Tingas book Plastic Soup Surfer. How one person can make a difference is published. In the book, with a foreword by Floortje Dessing, Tinga tells about his surf and sup expeditions and campaigns culminating in the introduction of the deposit for small plastic bottles on July 1, 2021.

Picture-blog about expeditions Plastic Soup Surfer