Why waste collection alone is not enough?
Read more about waste collection and learn how to minimize your impact on the environment. Discover the stories of those who changed the world
I have been picking up trash for seven years. I started because I was disgusted by the amount of trash I saw during my hours of swimming in the sea. I have been competing in triathlons for years, and to train I swim about two kilometers in the open ocean every day. I can't tell you how many bags, bottle caps, straws I've seen in the sea over the years. Too many. So, I decided drastic action was needed.
In 2014, I decided to travel with my kayak the entire Italian coast of the Adriatic Sea, almost 1000 km, to raise funds to protect the sea and the environment against pollution and the promotion and enhancement of marine protected areas. I set up my kayak and brought all my equipment to sleep and cook on my kayak, and I paddled up to 12 hours every day. It took 40 days to be able to finish the course - averaging about 25 km traveled per day - I was really exhausted from the effort!
This activity for me was not just a challenge of physical and mental endurance, nor was it just a project to raise money for the cause. It was an opportunity to gather an incredible amount of evidence and see with my own eyes the damage we are creating to the sea.
Along the way, I took more than 2,000 photographs of trash and plastic waste released into the sea, plotting each find on an interactive map. I then broke down the areas by level of pollution. My goal was to show the people who followed me the magnitude of the problem that sees us as negative players. My trip was an opportunity to encourage discussions about environmental issues, to raise awareness. It seemed like a real opportunity to make a difference. On the strength of the great feedback I received, I created a group with more than 5000 participants that every week gave life to events for the sea: from cleaning beaches to collecting garbage in the open sea.
I traveled all over Italy with my kayak and invited more and more people to join me in collecting plastic thrown into the sea. In recent years, more and more people have taken up the cause. The issue is increasingly central to discussions. More than 15,000 people participated in the clean-up activities and we removed about 100 tons of waste from the sea. A satisfaction. The victory is to recover plastic and other waste before it sinks and becomes irrecoverable. Ninety-five percent of waste ends up like this.
I must say that in the seven years I have been working at sea I have noticed a good reduction in waste, but I would say that this is due more to the increase in volunteers than to the decrease in pollution at sea. We are not solving the problem, we are just more people trying to limit the damage already created.
The truth is that this is not the solution. You can't end a problem just by increasing efforts to curb it. You have to fight it upstream. Improvement gives us strength, makes us feel useful and strong. But it's not enough. Picking up waste is a good short-term solution - like a Band-Aid covering a wound - but we should avoid hurting ourselves. How do we do that? We need technological innovations, a drastic change in our habits, and more responsibility on the part of those who produce polluting items. Then, we also need tougher measures to deal with waste in the beginning, rather downstream when it's already been dumped in the sea. It all starts with awareness. A problem can only be solved if it is first understood. This is where all waste collection efforts can be invaluable.
The next time you find a polluting object on the beaches or in the sea, take photos to prove what you saw. Capture the brand, type and number of litter you saw and be sure to share this evidence within your community. Companies and entities will only start looking for solutions to the problem if they are driven by large communities of people. Building evidence and nurturing community is the real power we have - nothing else will solve this problem once and for all.
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