By María Rodríguez
Dakar (EFE).- The Plastic Odyssey has embarked on a vast expedition with the honorable objective of preventing plastic waste from making its way to our oceans, where it degrades into polluting microplastics that infiltrate the food chain and damage wildlife.
The team behind the initiative has set its sights on visiting some 30 countries in the Global South over the next three years.
The vessel set out to sea from the French city of Marseille last October, passing by Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco before pulling up to Senegal on February 14.
The West African nation holds special significance as the birthplace of the project back in 2016.
“One of the cofounders used to be in the merchant navy, and traveled the world on big boats,” Morgane Kerdoncuff, the manager of stopovers and the onboard lab told Efe.
“He came here to Senegal, where he was taken aback by the plastic pollution along the coastlines and tried to find a way to act,” she added.
“It’s mainly on the coast where we see marine pollution. What we imagine is that the plastic floats on the water (…) but in reality it doesn’t stay on the surface, it sinks quickly and decomposes into microparticles,” Kerdoncuff told Efe from the vessel as it was moored on the island of Gorée in Dakar.
In a bid to stem the flow of plastic garbage into the sea, the Plastic Odyssey initiative hopes to train local entrepreneurs to create businesses based on recycling.
“The objective of the project is to support methods that will provide ways to reuse plastic waste before they spread into the environment,” Kerdoncuff said.
At every stopover, local entrepreneurs receive training and swap ideas on different types of recycling techniques that can turn plastic waste into useful products such as tubes, roofing, bricks, chairs and tables.
Oumar Lamine Diaby, founder of a plastic recycling company in his native Bamako, the capital of Mali, came to Dakar to learn how to improve and diversify his products.
“Primary material costs a lot and in Mali there is a lot of plastic. The most logical thing to do is recycle and sell cheaper products,” Oumar told Efe.
During a month-long stay in Senegal, the Plastic Odyssey team will travel inland to visit local recycling centers and initiatives.
Local students will also visit the vessel during its stay to learn about the issues caused by plastic pollution in the ocean.
It is estimated that each minute the equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic trash is dumped into the ocean, Kerdoncuff warned.
It is no coincidence that the project chose to travel by boat – it has a smaller environmental impact than a plane and allows the team to bring the equipment they need for the training sessions.
The chairs and tables on board the Plastic Odyssey vessel are fabricated from recycled plastic as testament to what can be achieved.
After stopping in Senegal, the Plastic Odyssey will call in at Guinea and Cape Verde before embarking across the Atlantic to South and Central America. She is due to continue her route to Asia before returning to France via South Africa in 2025.
The voyage is focused on the Global South given that developing countries emit a greater share of plastic waste, often due to poor recycling infrastructure.
The team has also found that the region is bustling with pragmatic entrepreneurs who want to help in finding the solution. EFE