Long before the COVID-19 pandemic even occurred, our planet was already facing a myriad of pressing environmental challenges. Now, as thousands of us wear masks to stop the spread of the virus, environmental activists are concerned about the pollution this could cause.
And rightly so: masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) are already being found in our oceans in considerable quantities, according to the United Nations. In France, the use of plastic food packaging has also increased by 20% since the beginning of the pandemic, a recent survey shows.
But two activists are hoping to reverse this trend by creating a “human barrier between waste and nature.”
Independent videographer Frédéric Munsch and 1 Piece of Rubbish a Day founder Edmund Platt, also known as “The Englishman who wanted to clean up France”, have embarked on a unique journey — walking across France for a month to pick up the waste and disposable masks that are plaguing the country in the age of COVID-19.
With 880 kilometres and 12 geographical departments to cover, the two men are following the path of a high-speed train (TGV) line between Marseille and Paris.
In just 15 days, they have already gathered 1,472 disposable masks, according to a press release shared with Global Citizen.
Platt is by no means a first-time campaigner: he has already travelled 8,000 kilometres across the country to advocate for the environment, the statement said. The Briton, who has now been living in France for nine years, says that the beauty of French landscapes, coupled with his passion for the environment, pushed him to take action.
“The desire to travel along the Marseille-Paris TGV line came to mind in 2011,” he told Global Citizen. “The first time I made this trip, I noticed that France was a beautiful country. That was before I got involved. I then thought: ‘Why not do the right thing and clean up what is, in my eyes, the most beautiful country in the world.’”
As for Munsch, choosing this route was also symbolic, since it is a popular one among French travellers.
Well beyond a short-term initiative, the activists also want to raise awareness among a wider audience; including by engaging with environmental groups, schools, and anyone else who wants to get involved in their fight against what they consider to be a “blue plague.”
Notre périple en reportage complet sur France2 Télématin le 14/10. Nous parcourons les routes et avalons les kilomètres les rencontres et les masques qu’on ramasse à la pelle. À côté de ça c’est tout un pays qu’on traverse et des témoignages uniques, abruptes, parfois violents, sur le quotidien de gens qui vivent au rythme des saisons et subissent en pleine face les conséquences de décisions sanitaires qui poussent de fragiles villages dans leurs extrémités et les isolent parfois encore plus d’avantage. Si pour certains la période est mal choisie elle est pour nous la meilleure, inconséquence de certains les déchets covid garnissent les routes, et les directives elles, se durcissent, et nous continuons malgré tout, déterminés, nous irons jusqu’au bout, rien ne nous arrêtera. Sous le soleil ou sous la pluie, l’automne peu à peu s’installe, le ciel est souvent bas, les interviews les médias s’enchaînent, mais l’aventure elle, continue en chemin et à chaque escale. @lescargotanglais @a_piquerp @thesortinghouse @telematin_officiel @nrjhitmusiconly @1dechetparjour_1pieceofrubbish
"We're not trying to convince those who already believe in the cause," Platt said. “We're trying to harness the power of [social] media among friends and followers — but most importantly, we're trying to create a connection in the minds of those who are still throwing [rubbish] on the ground and don't fully understand the problem.”
Looking ahead, the two young men hope that their initiative will inspire people in France and around the world to change their individual habits — and, hopefully, to join them in their clean-up efforts with the hashtag #1PieceOfRubbishADay.
“Picking up rubbish is like brushing your teeth,” Platt said. “Anyone can do it. It's open to everyone, regardless of religion, borders, and passports ... We’re all affected by the problem of ocean plastic pollution, and we’re all capable of taking action on nature.”