Green inspiration: interview with clean-up organiser Christian Stock
Christian Stock is an actor from Cologne, Germany. A few years ago, he started to use his spare time to do something for the environment. He founded the “K.R.A.K.E.” – the Cologne Rhine Clean-up Commando Division (the German version of the name obviously starts with the letters KRAKE). He organizes regular clean-ups through his Facebook group, to free the banks of the river Rhine and other places in Cologne from garbage. In the interview with One Green Deed A Day, he tells us how his environmental activities started, what he has accomplished so far and which plans he has for the future. He is an inspiring guy who shows us that everybody can contribute to saving our planet with easy-to-do activities.
One Green Deed A Day: Christian, about 3 years ago you started your Facebook group K.R.A.K.E. What was your motivation to launch this group?
Christian: A few years ago, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to make a documentation with him about leprosy in Nepal – as a producer. Strictly speaking, I am an actor, but I really wanted to do this. So, we went to Nepal for a month and learnt a lot about the people and about the disease. This experience definitely changed me as a person.
In Nepal, I also saw that many people simply threw their trash into the riverbed. Since we were there during dry season, there was no water in the river and the whole filth just stayed in the riverbed. It smelt horribly.
Unfortunately, they did not have a functioning waste collection system like we do here. Reflecting on this experience in Germany, I figured that I had some kind of responsibility. It may not be my rubbish in the Nepali riverbed, but I am aware of the fact that Germany exports a great part of its waste to Asia, for example to Malaysia. That’s why I thought: what could we do about it?
In the beginning, I started cleaning up around me every time I had a barbecue along the banks of the Rhine.
Then I stopped the barbecues and still went to the Rhine to collect waste, because I do not want the rubbish to end up in the ocean.
The two or three friends started to help me. Eventually, I felt it was time to share these activities with others. That is when I founded the Facebook group K.R.A.K.E. We came up with the name on night after a few Kölsch (beer from Cologne). At first, we were 50 people in the group, then 100. Ich posted videos and fotos from our clean-ups on Facebook and we became 500 people, then 1.000 and now we are more than 4.000 people in our group. I never expected the baby to become that big.
One Green Deed A Day: That is very impressive indeed. How do you organise your clean-ups?
Christian: In most cases, I initiate the clean-ups in our K.R.A.K.E. group. I then register the clean-up with the AWB (the municipal waste collecting service of Cologne) on their homepage. That is actually very simple. Everybody can do that. You can even order gloves and garbage bags for free. And you can pick a location, where the AWB will pick up the collected waste later on. For free. That is really great.
I create a Facebook event at least one week beforehand and then the people start signing up for it. That is how I do my almost weekly clean-ups, sometimes big ones, sometimes small ones. Sometimes I collect waste with 5 or 6 people. Yesterday, there were 50 of us.
“Every plastic bag that you pick up does land in the ocean and will not be eaten by a turtle”
One Green Deed A Day: How do you choose the locations for your clean-ups?
Christian: I walk around regularly and ride around to find out where a lot of waste has gathered. By now I know the hotspots where a lot of waste gets washed up during high water of the Rhine. And where people leave a lot of waste. But we also go to locations that we discover by accident or that members of our group have found. We are open to everything.
One Green Deed A Day: How often do you organise a clean-up and how much garbage do you collect during one event?
Christian: We usually do 3 or 4 clean-ups per month. Most time, we collect between 200 and 500 kg waste per clean-up. After high water, we can collect up to 800kg with 20 people within 2 hours.
If you come back to the same location after a few days, it often looks exactly like before the clean-up again. That can be very frustrating. But I look at it this way: every plastic bag that you pick up does land in the ocean and will not be eaten by a turtle.
One Green Deed A Day: Along the banks of the Rhine you find all sorts of waste, plastic bottle, canisters, bicycles and electronic waste. What do you do with all that?
Christian: Almost everything is collected by the AWB. Bulky waste and electronic waste will be brought to recycling depot. Waste collected by the AWB will be burnt. That is not perfect, but it is currently impossible to separate the large amounts of waste after our clean-ups.
This May, we are planning a cooperation with an artist from Belgrade, Ivan Kocic. He creates artwork from trash. That is very unique, and he sells his work for several thousand Euros. And now, he will create a piece from our collected waste from Cologne. We even plan to do a vernissage.
One Green Deed A Day: You are one of the organisers of the RhineCleanUp day. One day of the year, the banks of the Rhine will be cleaned in many cities at the same time. What can you tell us about that?
Christian: The RhineCleanUp takes place every year in September. This year, it will be September 12th. I organise this for the third time in a row in Cologne.
Last year, there were more than 500 people that collected waste with me. Even our mayor came. That is really beautiful campaign. The RhineCleanup was initiated and gets coordinated in Düsseldorf. The first year, about 50 cities along the Rhine participated. From Switzerland to the Netherlands. Last year, there were more than 100 cities. And this year, even the tributaries of the Rhine will be included. You can find contact persons or an organisation in every city or region that participates.
In Cologne, the AWB will provide one garbage truck for the day and will participate, too. This year, even the minister of the environment from Nordrhein-Westfalen (a German federal state) Mrs. Heinen-Esser is planning to come.
“Many kids are super motivated. And they go home and educate their parents.”
One Green Deed A Day: Do you get a lot of public support, from the city council for example?
Christian: The municipal waste collecting service was on board right from the start. Always friendly.
It was a bit more difficult with the politics. Three years ago, I was fighting pretty much by myself. I hoped for support for some of my activities, but there was absolutely nothing. I never stopped asking for help. Always friendly and constructive. At some point, the group got bigger and became big enough that politicians couldn’t ignore me anymore.
As actor, I also know people in the media that worked with me. And now, politicians are very open to my suggestions. Last year, I even received the award for voluntary commitment of the city of Cologne. That created attention and I also received some money that I used for our K.R.A.K.E. activities.
I am also in touch with the ministry of the environment of Nordrhein-Westfalen. They are all open to our suggestions. The implementation could be better, but at least the willingness is much better now.
One Green Deed A Day: You also give lectures at schools. How do the students react to this topic?
Christian: Schools contact me, because they heard of the K.R.A.K.E. and would like to do a clean-up with me. I first give a speech to the children in which I tell them about the plastic in the ocean: where it comes from and what it does to the animals and what we can do about it here. The children get very emotional and they understand very quickly that they can help to correct the errors in the system.
Many kids are animal lovers and therefore super motivated. They really give their best during our clean-ups. And then many of them go home and educate their parents.
“I would be very happy if more people joined clean-ups everywhere.”
One Green Deed A Day: What are your plans for the K.R.A.K.E.?
Christian: We have plenty of ideas. Right now, we are planning to set up a waste trap in the Rhine river. We will start a pilot project soon together with the AWB and the city of Cologne. It will cost about 15.000 Euro that we can pay thanks to sponsors from the industry. If the waste trap works, we plan to set up more.
The K.R.A.K.E. will also become a registered association in Germany soon. That way, we will have more possibilities than by being a citizens’ initiative. (EDIT: this has been done, now!)
One Green Deed A Day: Which green deed would you like the One Green Deed A Day community to do?
Christian: I think it would be great if everybody tries to pick up a piece of garbage from somebody else. That raises the awareness of the issue and everybody will try to produce less waste.
I would be very happy if more people joined clean-ups everywhere. Collecting waste by yourself is not that much fun, but the dynamics within a group helps a lot.
And most importantly, avoiding waste is key. Everybody should think about their shopping habits: do I buy the bell peppers that is wrapped in plastic or the bell pepper without packaging? If many people do not buy a product anymore, it will not be produced anymore.
A friendly talk with the store manager of your supermarket about improvements can be helpful, too. This is the only way to encourage other people to change their habits as well.
If you want to find out more about the K.R.A.K.E., check out and join their Facebook group.
Big thanks to Christian Stock for providing the pictures of his clean-ups and for the interview, of course.