In Toulouse, citizen marches to collect waste in the city

In Toulouse, citizen marches to collect waste in the city

The scene catches the eye. While onlookers take advantage of the coolness offered by the trees of Place Saint-Pierre, in the city center of Toulouse (Haute-Garonne), a small group of six people are busy, their eyes riveted on the ground, like little worker ants, picking up the waste strewn on the cobblestones.

Easily identifiable with his fluorescent orange vest, Laureen gives the indications: in the white bags, the all-comers; in the green bag, the recyclable. The 25-year-old young woman directs the Toulouse branch of the CleanWalker association (“clean walker”, in English). Created in 2018 by youtuber Benjamin Carboni, the movement is now present in around thirty cities in France, Belgium and Canada. On the seaside in Saint-Malo, along the Charente in Angoulême, in the steep streets of Strasbourg or the main avenues of Montreal, locals wishing to make themselves useful organize marches to collect waste. “People can turn to us to ask how to organize and plan the event, explains Victoria Falcone, president of the association. The heart of the activity lies in the collection of garbage and in the gathering of volunteers. Private companies like Boulanger also call on our services when they want to organize a march with employees.” CleanWalker claims to date 300 steps and 10,000 cleaners.

A walk within everyone’s reach

A year and a half ago, Laureen, just recruited in a travel agency, was looking for a way to act on her scale for the planet. She discovered the association and followed a distance training, in which Victoria and one of the four other volunteers in the office gave her advice and recommendations. A few weeks later, she launched her first march in Toulouse. Volunteers are encouraged to approach town halls, which provide equipment such as pliers or garbage bags. The call to participate is launched on social networks. “To choose the route, I scout: an abandoned car park, a garden that does not fall under the city’s cleaning map…”, explains Laureen.

At the beginning of summer, it is around the University of Capitole that these strange walkers meet. Among the team of the day, Christine, 54 years old: “Faced with climate change, these small actions help me to feel less helpless. We are lucky to live in a magnificent city, we have to maintain it!”, exclaims this smiling Toulouse woman. Around her, Amber and Clémence, in their twenties, have already filled a bottle with cigarette butts. Christine sighs, her eyes riveted on the Garonne: “when you know that a single cigarette butt can pollute up to 500 liters of water, I get chills to see that there are plenty of them on the sidewalks…”

The strength of the group

To mobilize the troops – who often end the day with a few aches – Laureen does not hesitate to call on those close to her. His parents have already participated and that day, his big sister, Nefret, came to help him. Anyone can join the procession. In fact, each of the four marches organized since January 2023 in Toulouse has attracted new “cleaners”, explains Laureen, as a mother with a stroller approaches her group. “It’s nap time, normally I have forty-five minutes in front of me”, slips the young woman, her eye turned towards the sleeping 10-month-old baby.

The good-natured atmosphere attracts passers-by. “Thank you for what you do!” Says a 50-year-old on a walk with her dog. Laureen was able to see that the walk raised awareness and brought people together. Christine, too, appreciates the collective side of the process. “Faced with climate change, it is not always easy to feel useful, even with small daily acts such as sorting.” An approach that CleanWalker encourages to make the group’s strength felt. At 4 p.m., the cheeks are flushed from the sun, the legs tired and the garbage bags full. Using a luggage scale, the volunteers count their impressive harvest: approximately 1,000 cigarette butts, 7 kg of glass, 9 kg of abandoned objects, 8.5 kg of garbage, in barely two hours.

Recipes for success

  • A national framework: Each march is set up with the support of the association’s national office, which supervises and advises the volunteer organizers.
  • A concrete action: The collected waste is weighed. Their weight is recorded on the Trash Spotter app, funded by an endowment fund, which converts it into a monetary value. The money is then donated to CleanWalker. In May, the special operation “Maigo” collected 30,800 cigarette butts.
  • A clean rhythm: The frequency of the walks is decided by the volunteer at the head of the antenna. The freedom is total, which allows you to invest according to your available time.

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