The SeaCleaners Swiss show their ambitions!
17 April 2023
It is not always easy to raise awareness about the protection of marine ecosystems in a country that has no coastline! However, TSC Swiss, which has been in existence for 3 years, has never been so determined and optimistic to make the voice of the oceans heard in Switzerland. Benoit de Torcy, Executive Director of The SeaCleaners Swiss, reveals the association's strategy.
Benoit de Torcy tells us more
TSC Swiss, who is it, what is it, where is it?
The SeaCleaners Swiss is an organization recognized as being of public utility and registered in the commercial register since 2020. It is a team of 6 people, accompanied by about 20 volunteers, mainly in French-speaking Switzerland. This close-knit team works daily to fight against plastic pollution in the oceans.
We have 2 missions, both complementary and distinct, with a common desire to warn about plastic problems and to rally a maximum of people around our cause.
Our primary activity is to contribute to the financing of our cleanup boats (the Manta and the Mobula fleet). By rallying companies and philanthropy under a common project, we want to show that Switzerland, whose reputation for charity is well established, also contributes significantly to the respect of our oceans.
We also carry out a lot of awareness and education actions in different forms: awareness raising in schools, universities and companies, cleanup organizations, participation in major national events such as the Paleo, Alternatiba…
We are divided between French and German speaking Switzerland: Geneva to be at the heart of international organizations, NGOs and other foundations and thus to navigate in this extremely rich ecosystem called “International Geneva”; Lausanne to be as central as possible in French speaking Switzerland and Bern, our capital, to be as close as possible to political decision makers but also to have an important radius of action in German speaking Switzerland.
How does TSC Swiss act against plastic pollution?
Although we have been acting in a concrete way since our creation in Switzerland, through the organization or the participation in events, we have decided, for 2023, to put more emphasis on the aspects of education and awareness around these issues of plastic pollution.
We particularly insist on explaining that, even in a landlocked country like Switzerland, without direct access to the sea, everyone can and should feel concerned by the fate of the oceans. Everyone has a responsibility and a role to play to make them healthier. The health of the oceans depends on the health of our planet, our well-being and our quality of life, even hundreds of kilometers away… And we can do everything we can, in our daily lives, to protect it. In a country in love with its mountains and lakes, with a very strong sensitivity to the preservation of the purity of the environmental heritage, these are messages that strike the minds.
We are more and more solicited by the whole ecosystem of education (primary, secondary and high schools) to come and present our actions, to organize presentations around plastic pollution and to raise awareness through our different educational tools.
We also organize cleanups and participate in different national events by promoting our different actions on our stands.
What motivated you to join the fight against plastic pollution?
Sailing is an extremely present passion in my daily life. I have always been saddened and struck by the large amount of plastic pollution at sea near the coasts, mostly due to littering, therefore caused by human beings in a more or less voluntary way.
During my last Atlantic crossing, this observation was applied to the middle of the ocean itself, and this marked me even more. As this phenomenon is growing on all of our planet’s waters (I can also see it while sailing on Lake Geneva), it seemed inevitable to me to get involved in a more concrete way in the defense of our oceans. Joining The SeaCleaners, whose various projects I had been following for several years, was an obvious choice, among all the programs that are developing for the same cause.
What are the main actions of TSC Swiss in 2023?
In addition to the daily fundraising activities, we have been present in the field for the past 3 years and our presence is growing steadily. Today our group of volunteers is growing and allows us to have a larger radius of action in the French speaking part of Switzerland. Moreover, we see a growing interest for our project, from companies and university actors who contact us to organize joint events or for us to intervene within their various structures.
Following the example of the last few years, we are going to continue our awareness actions by being present at the Paleo Festival, at the Alternatiba Festival (GE), by organizing for the 4th time an awareness weekend in Versoix during the World Clean-Up Day, in September and other actions within schools and companies.
We are developing a partnership with the Swiss Solar Boat team of the EPFL to organize a common event for the inauguration of their renewable energy boat, we would also like to be present at Festi’Neuch as well as at the Geneva boat show at the end of the year.
In addition to these actions which have a very important influence, we continue our interventions in schools/universities/companies to explain, raise awareness and educate on the problem of plastic and plastic in the oceans, which concerns us daily!
We also organize cleanups (like recently with AIESEC and UniL during their sustainability week) and try to diversify our interventions (like with the Ge-Servette in Geneva during their last play-off game).
What is the strategy of The SeaCleaners Swiss?
As the Federal Council reminds us in its report of September 23, 2022 on “Plastics in the environment”, despite collection and recycling efforts, we release into the environment each year in Switzerland about 14,000 tons of macro-plastics (+ 5mm) and micro-plastics (- 5mm). In a country that prides itself on civic-mindedness and cleanliness, this figure is appalling!
“Our objective is to continue to fight against this plastic pollution by bringing together all the different actors in Switzerland (companies, patrons and the general public) around our cause in order to convince them to invest in our flagship project which is the construction of the Manta but also of our Mobula.”
Dans une autre mesure, nous souhaitons continuer à renforcer notre présence terrain en multipliant nos actions (cleanup, sensibilisation, éducation) et en ayant une équipe de bénévoles qui continue de s’agrandir en devenant pro-active et autonome, sur l’ensemble du pays.
Pourquoi la pollution plastique est un sujet important ici en Suisse ?
Bien que cela puisse paraitre paradoxal car nous n’avons pas de frontières directes avec les mers et océans, la Suisse a un impact direct sur la pollution des mers et océans. De par sa consommation de produits en plastique élevée en comparaison des autres pays, la Suisse contribue de manière notable à ce problème environnemental croissant au niveau mondial. Selon les estimations, près de 20 tonnes de microplastiques provenant de la Suisse parviennent chaque année dans les océans par les fleuves.
En Suisse, toutes les matières plastiques doivent faire l’objet d’une valorisation matière ou thermique à l’issue de leur cycle de vie. La mise en décharge est interdite. À l’heure actuelle, plus de 80 % des déchets plastiques en Suisse sont valorisés thermiquement, et près de 10 % sont recyclés. Quasiment 6 % des déchets plastiques sont exportés pour être recyclés et réutilisés, presque exclusivement vers des pays de l’Union européenne (UE).
Le sujet est aussi important ici car, par son histoire, ses traditions, la présence de toutes les grandes institutions internationales, la Suisse se situe à l’avant-garde de l’aide au développement mondial. Or, on le sait, la pollution plastique océanique, est surtout un fléau dans les pays moins développés où les infrastructures de gestion des déchets sont insuffisantes. C’est un sujet de solidarité internationale et sur ce terrain, la Suisse a toujours répondu présente.
How can you get involved in the fight against plastic pollution of the oceans when you are Swiss?
It’s quite simple! The first and easiest way is to make an online donation. Every contribution counts to help us achieve our missions! Then, it is possible to support us by joining our team of volunteers, via our website. We have a really motivated, proactive team, which is only looking to grow! It doesn’t take much time in the year and our events are pretty cool!
If motivated people do not dare to join us because of lack of time, it is quite possible to get involved against plastic pollution by changing one’s behavior and consumption habits.
If we look carefully at the main sources of plastic pollution on our territory, we realize that there are 2 main sources of problems created by everyone on a daily basis (which I oppose here to companies).
- Emissions generated during a use phase, such as tire abrasion, which generates 13,500 tons of waste per year (60% rubber, 30% soot used as filler and 10% inorganic substances (heavy metals such as zinc)) *
- Emissions generated by inappropriate disposal, so-called littering, with 18,500 tons per year. As a result of improper disposal, a significant amount of plastics ends up in composting and anaerobic digestion plants together with green waste from households or biodegradable waste from industry and commerce. These are mostly single-use products from the catering industry, cigarette butts and their filters (which release 4,000 chemicals into the environment), cotton buds and other hygiene products that are improperly disposed of in the toilet, as well as packaging residues in the collected green waste (compost + digestate).
Our behaviors have a direct impact on the proliferation of plastic pollution in our country. Without wanting to be polemical, it is then easy for us to modify our behaviors, while knowing that the alternative solutions are not so constraining:
- Tire abrasion: we are fortunate to have an extremely well-developed and high-quality train network (punctual trains, very clean, comfortable facilities, etc.). It is very easy to travel quickly in Switzerland, especially since road traffic is often congested when approaching large cities. And who has never found himself, looking out the window during his trip, dreaming of the beauty of our lakes and mountains. I think that there are worse environments, so we might as well enjoy them without being concentrated at the wheel!
- littering: Even if we are all accustomed to sorting waste in our homes and public spaces, I think that there is a permanent effort to be made regarding the proper use of our various waste garbage cans. It’s a question of common sense and education and if some people don’t realize the large-scale impact that their small daily actions can have, it’s with great pleasure that we invite them to our different awareness actions!
- Green waste:
- In the case of households, plastics are brought in as a result of errors such as lack of knowledge about proper disposal, convenience (e.g., throwing away expired foodstuffs and leaving them in their packaging), or a desire to avoid the costs of disposal.
- In the industrial and artisanal sectors, the input of plastics comes mainly from packaged food waste. Unsold food is often disposed of with the packaging in the green waste. In addition, self-adhesive labels on fruit and vegetables (e.g. label stickers) also contain plastics.
Awareness and training sessions can be a simple but radical solution to raise awareness of the importance of sorting our green waste.
*All figures in this article are taken from the Federal Council’s “Plastics in the Environment” report of 23 September 2022