Ÿnspire – Anaëlle Marot, Founder of Projet Azur
Today, we meet Anaëlle Marot, founder of the Azur Project, which brings together adventurers at sporting expeditions to collect waste.
Impact guides the daily life of all Ÿnsecters: how can we feed the planet while conserving resources and biodiversity? As our initiatives broaden, we have decided to give a voice to those who are helping to change the world, offer alternatives and increase sustainability. Today, we meet Anaëlle Marot, founder of the Azur Project, which brings together adventurers at sporting expeditions to collect waste around the Mediterranean, the Loire valley and soon mountainous regions. We discussed the project and its objectives, as well as wider, marine pollution and environmental issues.
Can you tell us about the Azur Project?
The Azur Project is a group of eco-adventurers who travel around France for several months with the objective of organizing waste collections, meeting with local environmental actors and raising public awareness around environmental issues. Our favorite modes of transport are bicycles and kayaks. Our objective is to become facilitators of information-sharing between lots of different people who wouldn’t usually talk to each other very much.
In 2020, you launched an expedition and collected 3.5 tons of waste. What triggered this initiative?
I have been visiting the Mediterranean coast for several years, and the amount of plastic on the beaches deeply shocked me: I saw birds using plastic to build their nests, and heard fishermen talking about the amount of plastic present in the fish they were catching. All of this made me very anxious: I felt powerless in front of the immensity of the problem but I wanted to act! So I thought about how I wanted to take action! So I thought about how I could do that. I didn’t want to act purely out of aggression or sadness, and it took someone to show me how to get started. It all clicked when I watched the documentary ‘The Great Sapphire’: the beautiful images, sports, and the ability to unite people around a common goal, all of this made sense to me. So I left my career at the time to turn my hobby into a full-time with an environmental mission at the core: to travel the Mediterranean by kayak to collect waste.
You are the president of the “Tout sur ma mer” association which sponsors the Azur Project, could you explain the objective of this association? Why did you sponsor the project?
In reality, the association is mainly focused on the Azur Project. We split the year in two phases: during the summer, we organize the adventures, i.e. the routes our adventurers will take during which they will organize the waste collections. During the winter, we focus on communicating on the adventures, sharing the story with as many people as possible through conferences, films, etc. The association allows us to make the public aware of environmental issues, especially those related to marine pollution.
At Ÿnsect, we have 5 values: explorer, authenticity, adaptability, solidarity and balance. Which of these values resonates with you the most? Why do you think that is?
I would say adaptability because to me it means taking different things into account. It is not a selfish value that serves an individual purpose; it’s a way of taking into account the environment around us, of finding a balance between people and the planet.
What do you do with the waste you collect? What is the most common waste?
Without a doubt, the plastic bottle is the most common waste product! They are deposited all over the place, and that’s because they’re so easy to purchase in supermarkets, small shops… and it gets very easily swept up by wind or water, which explains how widespread they are. 70% of the waste collected is plastic, and mostly single-use plastic. This is frustrating as they would be so easy to replace with other types of packaging. As for the treatment of the waste, we work with local communities. We also repurpose the waste when possible: we pass on corks to associations such as Sauvage, which transform them into jewelry and other things.
How is a collection organized? What is the process? Do you have to be able to pedal and paddle to participate?
No! Only adventurous women paddle and pedal. The waste collections are done on foot and involve between 20 and 60 people. To organize them, we always communicate as far in advance as possible to mobilize the public and generate word of mouth. The local associations we work with take care of communicating on social media, and the town halls help out too. Our goal is that after the collection, the public continues its commitment to the local associations.
What advice would you give to the public to take action?
First of all, I would say not to see commitment as a constraint or punishment. Today, thanks to the many people I’ve met, I can see that those who have embarked on an ecological transition in their lives are more in tune with themselves: they consume better, go slower and work towards the common good. I would also say that it’s important to listen to yourself and try to live in accordance with your values. Personally, I speak about a very hard topic every day, but I am happy to because I work for a very positive purpose, am active and surrounded by inspiring people. I know that I am not going to change the world alone, but I am happy that I am doing my part in a way that is aligned with who I am.
During the lockdown, there were a lot of articles about its benefits on the environment. What is your assessment of the effects of this period on the sea and nature in general?
Despite what you might think, the first lockdown and health crisis actually resulted in a 20% increase in plastic production. Indeed, due to stricter sanitary measures, companies have overpackaged products. However, this response is counterproductive since we know today that plastic absorbs more microbes than other packaging solutions, such as cardboard. On the flip side, lockdown has been effective in reducing noise pollution. Thanks to this, animals have returned to areas that they had abandoned. The lockdown has taught us a beautiful lesson: it is possible to slow down, we are capable of living within our means, and restoring harmony between living beings.
Today, the Mediterranean, but tomorrow?
I have been lucky enough to have travelled around Europe for several years. And it is true that this notion of ‘Union’ is particularly close to my heart: there is something very strong and symbolic about the solidarity between countries. For the time being, we are concentrating on developing our adventures around the Mediterranean, the Loire valley and mountainous regions, but we are thinking more and more about extending the project to wider Europe, and even other continents! We are particularly interested in the countries in North Africa because they border the Mediterranean and would allow us to be more holistic regarding our Mediterranean approach. However, we want to take our time and see what other cultures have to offer before making a decision!