Bonjour! My name is Margaret and I am a member of the Bicentennial class majoring in French & Psychology. Environmental issues have always been important to me. I was raised in a New Hampshire community filled with Priuses and families bringing reusable shopping bags to the local Co-Op. Composting was the norm in my high school, and the Outing Club organized hikes in the White and Green Mountains most weekends. Living in a community that prioritizes environmental consciousness and education instilled in me a “green” way of life.
At Amherst, I have sought involvement with environmental activism and initiatives on campus by working with the Office of Environmental Sustainability (learn more about getting involved here!) in areas including Earth Day Fest, Green Athletics, and Dining Services. This semester, I am excited to highlight sustainable initiatives abroad as a Global Sustainability Fellow. During the semester I will spend in Paris, I will be researching strategies to combat plastic waste around the globe with a dual focus on plastic waste in France and in global waterways.
I chose to specifically research plastic waste because the state of our global waterways is a dire issue which will only continue to compound as the population increases exponentially. In recent popular media, photos of waste islands have gone viral. While many people on social media have shown their support by liking or sharing a post, it is rare for someone to go beyond a surface level of support and take the time to educate themselves further about the issue.
Biarritz is a small city located 30 minutes from the Spanish border on the Western coast of France. Biarritz is a tourist hotspot and there is an annual surfing competition in a nearby village that draws some of the biggest names in surfing from around the globe. Walking around, I have not encountered very much litter or waste on the beaches and streets of the town. In part, I attribute this to the different consumer habits in France. Here, a trip to the grocery store involves buying smaller items in smaller quantities. In fact, it would be difficult to load more than an arm basket’s worth of food onto the mini-sized conveyor belts in “les super-marchés”. This consumer mindset promotes less food and packaged material waste.
The G7 was held in Biarritz this summer. Sustainability was an item on the agenda and the Environment Ministers focused on the four topics of inequality in inclusive ecological transitions, biodiversity erosion, tangible solutions for biodiversity erosion, and financing the preservation of biodiversity. Waste management was addressed within the lens of limiting impacts on vulnerable populations by creating a culture of inclusivity and sustainability. The G7 organizers work to minimize the environmental impact of their event on the area by partnering with green sponsors for the event. One sponsor, Suez, ensured a waste sorting system for all of the conference venues. Food waste was donated to local associations and recycling was highlighted throughout the summit.
Panthalassa created an incredibly moving sculpture series on the “Grand Plage” de Biarritz. This plastic “family” was constructed entirely of waste found in the ocean. The tagline for the project was “if the sea could see us, it would see us as plastic beings”. This work addressed the issue of people distancing themselves from environmental issues by believing they are removed from the source of the problem. Visitors were forced to confront the uncomfortable reality that their plastic waste, of which the average French/Spanish coastal family produces 145 kilos/year, is what fueled this sculpture series.
Ocean Initiatives is a global organization headquartered in Biarritz that works to mobilize communities by organizing inclusive clean-up days. This year, they had over 40,000 participants! This year, there have been several ocean clean ups that Biarritz citizens have organized and promoted on their platform. These clean ups not only improve the shoreline, but also promote public awareness and encourage others to take action.
Surfrider Foundation Europe The Surfrider Foundation staged an advocacy event that coincided with the G7 in Biarritz in order to highlight pressing environmental issues and community support for visiting leaders such as Trump and Macron.
Laboratoires de Biarritz is an organic/sustainability focused skincare brand that is also a wealth of information regarding resources on practicing sustainable consumption and waste disposal habits in Biarritz. They have some staggering statistics on their website, such as that 32% of all plastic packaging materials end up in the environment, outside of any treatment system.
I encourage all of you to research waste management in your home community and communities you travel to. Though Biarritz is small in terms of population, they have made an enormous effort to resist the waste that comes along with being a popular summer vacation destination by staging advocacy summits and promoting sustainable waste management and limitation throughout the town.