How was the collective born?
The project started with the work I had to do in my first year of business school, in 2019. It was a compulsory assignment where I had to, with a team of students, make an event from A to Z. We were a team of 5 people, we chose an event on environmental protection. It took a year to organise: there was a whole awareness-raising part, a lot of stands on the D-day with associations, companies, quite a few people in the sustainable development world. The event was a success and we had a lot of requests following it. People asked us “When is the next edition?”, “And then what do we do?”… At the beginning we didn’t plan to continue and then with all this mobilisation we said to ourselves that it would be good to become actors of change and to continue. Three of us really continued the project, we transformed the collective into an association, we called it “Réunionnais volontaires” (“volunteer Reunionese”).
For the collection actions that followed, it happened very quickly: now it takes less than a month to organise the collection. Once a year there is the World Clean-up Day: on this occasion we do a big event, with a lot of communication, a lot of people and stands to really make people aware and show that there are possible alternatives to our current consumption patterns. Otherwise, it’s usually a simple collection action where we invite people to participate, freely, without registering beforehand. Our goal is to make the action as accessible as possible. We provide the material (bags, gloves) and it’s open to everyone. We usually have around 50 people per event. For the Word Clean-up Day between 70 and 100 people.
The waste is sorted on site by the participants. Each action is supported by the local authority which will help us with the collection, sorting and redistribution to the sorting and recycling centres.
We have been able to count 27 actions since 2019.
What challenges did you encounter? How did you overcome them?
Obstacles: we don’t necessarily feel helped and supported by the municipalities, a lot of obstacles at the level of the administration because we never know who to turn to or it takes time… For example when we need authorization, equipment, logistical help… Fortunately this has improved a lot, thanks to our work and also because mentalities have changed. Today we are supported by the town halls, the local authorities in each of our actions. They are always present now. For example, in the town of St Benoît, which is my town, at least one elected official is present on collection days: he comes in his trainers and helps out, which is a real pleasure. And then it’s an opportunity to discuss with the citizens, the people in the neighbourhood, and that’s really great.
Otherwise, everything went very smoothly.
Perhaps another difficulty was the comments we received: people who said to us on the spot or on social networks “Why should I have to pick up the waste when I didn’t throw it away? “Why do I have to pick up what other people do? But I see that mentalities are changing. Now people are more in the mindset of “It’s not my waste but it’s my planet”.
How do you communicate? Social networks, posters around the collection area: we write on cardboard, so as not to print and cause additional pollution. We use a lot of intermediaries via our partners: town halls, local authorities, etc. They help in disseminating information. Schools too. And we are well represented in the media, which is there to cover almost every action.
What are the results?
We have reached about 30 tons of waste recovered since the beginning of our actions. Around 2000 citizens have been mobilised or made aware of the issue. Often teachers or parents participate in the collection and then have the idea to do it with their children or their school and that’s how projects are created. There are even people who take the initiative to involve their colleagues or companies and now we also intervene for companies.
From a qualitative point of view, what I can see is that mentalities have change a lot since 2019 and we can also see that there is less and less waste and illegal dumping on the coastlines that we clean up. That’s why we’re now tackling the mountains via eco-rands.
Do you manage to determine the origin of the waste: is it us who produce it locally or does it come from elsewhere?
We make a distinction between the waste we find on the coastline and the waste we find on the fitness trails. On the coastline, we have waste that comes from elsewhere, and we can prove this by looking at the labels and caps on the waste. Some of it comes from South Asia. This is waste from products that are not sold in Reunion. It’s still quite rare, on the eastern side we’d be at less than 3%.
Anything else to add?
A message for all young citizens: don’t expect politicians or companies to change the situation. We can be actors of change, we can do our part to change mentalities, change the situation and create a better world together. We have to get involved and join the movement together.