In conversation with Team What’s Out:

 

Tell us about yourselves and what you are doing in Ethiopia?

My name is Matthieu and I am 23. I studied international business studies in Loughborough (UK) and then worked for Ashoka, a NGO helping social entrepreneurs having more impact. My cousin Quentin is 24 and after some engineering studies in France he worked 2 years for Bouygues Bâtiment as a site engineer on one of the biggest construction site in Europe. It was there that he realized the amount of waste generated in construction which is the second largest sector producing of plastic waste after packaging.  We are cycling the world to meet plastic waste solutions.  By 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean. We decided to take action by building an awareness campaign on the solutions. During one year we are cycling 20000km to meet and spotlight the stories of the people changing the world for the better.

 

Why did you choose Ethiopia and what have you seen here?

After cycling 5000km from South Africa to Rwanda and due to the recent events in Kenya and Ethiopia we took a flight to Addis. There, we were shocked with the amount of waste and plastic in the city, especially after coming from Rwanda, the cleanest country in Africa. That country has banned single use plastic bags and since then this has had a positive effect on tourism, agriculture and water treatment.

 

What did you do in Ethiopia?

Yasser (founder of Cactus) gave us a challenge: 10 hours – 4 local artists – 1 art piece from recycled plastic. We took up the challenge with artist and Team What’s Out member Seifu Abebe along with some of his friends. We set out to gather more than 700 used plastic bottles. We then cut them and started putting them together to form a gigantic planet. The powerful message is to show that there is no planet B and that we have to take care of nature. Starting from right now, all of us can make a difference by using our own bags, rethinking the product design and putting pressure on the government and raising awareness. We are proud to see the final art piece and thankful to Cactus and the local artists that enabled this fantastic 10h adventure.

 

 

What has been the best part of your journey thus far?

– After 5 months cycling across 10 countries we realized the most exciting part is meeting people. For instance in Spain we met Frederica Bertochinni, a scientist who found worms that can biodegrade plastic! She showed us her passion for bees, her lab and her home where we cooked crepes with fresh honey. Every day we meet new people, whether it’s a Mozambican farmer telling us the story of his migrant family, a women CEO of one of the biggest Moroccan financial groups or a volunteer in Malawi. All these encounters inspire us and change our view about the world. People are kind and the world is positively changing!

 

Out of the recycling initiatives you have seen thus far – what’s been the most inspiring?

So far we have identified over 300 solutions to prevent plastic pollution worldwide and have observed 10 of them. The most inspiring and impactful so far is the Virtuous Circle in South Africa. In the country there is a shortage of 3 million School desks. RWPA working with Wildlands and Futurelife found a way to turn plastic waste into school desks. Their main innovation is to recycle waste that until now ended up in landfill: multilayer plastic. So far and supported by multinationals like Unilever and DuPont, they have distributed thousands of desks in townships. RWPA is now currently working on a new project building cheap houses from recycled plastic and sawdust. This could be a game changer as it’s a financially sustainable project and there is a high demand to replace shacks in townships.

 

What Challenges have you faced?

For the first 2500 km we didn’t even have one puncture but it all changed on the 22nd of August. It was in the middle of Spain, we had cycled over 100km through the desert. We stopped to escape the 40 degrees and followed a track leading us to an abandoned farm. Suddenly we realized our 4 tires had fifty thorns and we couldn’t move the loaded 50kg bikes. After a hot night without sleep or water, we hitchhiked to the next city and finally repaired our bicycles.  We also had other problems in Africa like being attacked by baboons, getting our computer stolen, falling of the bike. But so far we only met friendly people and are deeply surprised by their kindness and hospitality.

 

How did you decide where to cycle across east Africa?

We planned our route according to the initiatives we had identified, the safety level of the countries and the distances. We chose to focus mainly on developing countries because they represent the biggest challenge for waste management as they have a rapid growth and insufficient infrastructures.  You can find our web series on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube at Cycle to Recycle Plastic