Meet the floating cyclist who cleans up canals

Dhruv Boruah built this floating bicycle to fish out litter in London's canals, in an eye-catching strategy to stop the spread of plastic waste.

Posted: Jul 26, 2018 3:27 PM
Updated: Jul 26, 2018 3:32 PM

After racing a yacht from London to Rio de Janeiro, adventurer Dhruv Boruah learned that another team taking part in that same race had come across two turtles tangled in plastic in the middle the Atlantic Ocean. Thinking about all the other victims of plastic pollution in our oceans, Boruah was compelled to act.

So, back home in London, he pieced together a bamboo bicycle, put yellow floats on either side, and added a rudder and a pedal-powered propeller to the front. Then, with a fishing net hooked on either side, he began cycling on the city's rivers and canals collecting plastic waste.

The idea is not to singlehandedly rid London's waterways of plastic — that's too big a job for one man on a floating bicycle.

Instead, Boruah, 35, uses his comical contraption to strike up conversations with curious onlookers.

"It's a great conversation starter, and then I can tell them about my work, the plastic, and how it all starts here in the canals," Boruah tells CNN while balancing on his bike in London's Regent's Canal.

Boruah hopes his campaign -- The Thames Project -- will make people aware of the dangers of plastic pollution, and inspire them to take action.

When he's not "off-road cycling," as he calls it, Boruah is working with councils, businesses and communities to encourage them to reduce their plastic footprint.

Businessman turned environmentalist

In a past life Boruah was a management consultant, spending 14 hours a day in front of a screen. "But then I asked myself, 'when was the last time I saw a star? Are my eyes made for the stars or for the screen?'" he says.

Dhruv began his clean-ups on the River Thames a year ago, and now ventures to other rivers across the country. He cycles to a river with just a backpack, takes about 40 minutes to convert his bike into a floating vehicle, and launches on the water to "become like Jesus for a little bit."

He heads to the waterways every three weeks and enlists the help of litter pickers on canoes, boats, and even stand up paddle boards. On one of these clean-up days in Birmingham, Boruah says they collectively retrieved 275 kilograms of plastic, enough to fill a small truck.

Boruah fills his fishing nets with all sorts of single-use plastic, such as stryofoam and water bottles. He says the real danger comes when these get broken down into tiny microplastics and get into the air, our seas and the food chain.

"Plastic is now in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat," he says.

"You have to care because it's about you, your health, and the health of your children. Why are we destroying this planet for them?'

Correction: We've updated this story to correctly state who discovered the two turtles tangled in plastic.

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