Cape Town - Deciding not to use plastic straws is one thing but cycling 20 000kms in order to find ways to recycle this hazardous material is altogether something different.
This is exactly what two Frenchmen are currently doing, across four continents, in the space of a year.
Cousins Quentin Witvoet, 24 and Matthieu Witvoet, 23, are aiming to find and identify inspiring solutions to the plastic plague of the 21st century. While many their age might consider taking a party-filled gap year, these two have put intent and action behind their travels.
Matthieu comes from an international business studies background, having studied at Loughborough, while Quentin is a qualified engineer having worked at Bouygues Bâtiment for two years - reportedly one of the biggest construction sites in Europe.
'Drive to find recycling solutions'
Quentin says working in construction, he realised the amount of waste generated within this industry, which is the "second largest producer of plastic waste after the packaging industry". He decided to take his concerns to the company head he was working for and they are now in fact the main sponsor behind this continental drive to find recycling solutions that are simple and effective to implement. Others include Fidexi, Plastics Europe and Audirep, he says.
And after four months into their marathon mission which began in August, they say they’re realizing the world is awash with people as passionate as they are about reducing plastic waste.
This despite being "attacked by baboons, getting their computer stolen, and having some nasty falls off their bike", they remain committed to their cause.
“For the first 2 500km we didn't even have a puncture. So far we have only met friendly people and are deeply surprised by their kindness and hospitality. The most exciting thing to date is meeting people," they say.
‘Worms that disintegrate plastic’
“For instance in Spain, we met Frederica Bertochinni, a scientist who has 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 group or a volunteer in Malawi. All these encounters inspire us and change our view on the world.
"People are kind and the world is positively changing!,” say the cousins optimistically.
But they recognise a trip like this is not without its ups and downs, as the cousins have been realistic about their chosen route through Africa, which includes South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia.
“We planned our route according to the initiatives we had identified, the safety level of the countries and the distances - choosing to focus mainly on developing countries because they represent the biggest challenge for waste management as they have a rapid growth and insufficient infrastructures,” says Matthieu.
'Virtuous Circle is an inspiration'
And Frederica’s worms is one of some 300 projects and adaptable solutions they’ve identified as part of their journey. Both Matthieu and Quentin agree, a project underway in South Africa is one of the most inspiring they’ve seen thus far.
Virtuous Circle is aiming to make an impact in the lives of learners through recycling plastic into school desks - this, where there is a shortage of some 3 million across the country. Estimates indicate that there is a shortage of some 90 million desks across Africa.
The initiative is run by RWPA Solutions, who is working with Wildlands Conservation Trust and Futurelife.
Together they have found an innovative solution to recycle multi-layered waste that until now ended up in a landfill. It is effectively reprocessed into much-needed desks. So far and supported by multi-nationals like Unilever and DuPont, they have distributed thousands of desks to schools in need across SA.
“RWPA is now currently working on a new project building cheap houses from recycled plastic and sawdust,"according to the cousins.
'Game changing, financially sustainable projects'
Matthieu says he believes this initiative to be a “game changing, financially sustainable project” that would address the high demand for affordable, secure housing in townships.
"As nature enthusiasts on bicycles we are also surprised by the beauty.
The Mozambique coast, the wilderness of the Zimbabwean mountains and the authenticity of the Malawi people are also standouts of their journey to date.
They're currently cycling through Tanzania and you can follow their journey here:
What to read next on Traveller24:
- This holiday fraud prank is all the festive-season paranoia you don't need!
- Hawaii boat wreck shows eco-risk of fishing fleet practices
- New Ocean Life Festival set to kick off in Cape Town's Waterfront