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Everyday Heroes #4

"I've learned never to think my actions might be insignificant or won‘t make a difference."

Stef has been picking up litter since arriving in the Seychelles just over a year ago. In one year, she's picked up 40,000 pieces of litter from her local beach. She creates 'pop-up' trash art with the items she's collected, which you can find at @mybeachproject. Her individual actions have now inspired many others to join her on her clean-ups where she's working to preserve paradise and raise awareness of plastic pollution.

Thanks for chatting with us, Stef. For those who don't know you, can you tell us a bit about yourself...

I was born in Germany, but since leaving my office job in 2015 (that tied me to the computer for 10+ hours a day) I've taken on different jobs in the tourism industry. I've worked as a Biking Guide on a cruise ship, a Guest Services Supervisor on a tiny island in the Maldives and, since November 2019, I’m here in the Seychelles working as a Tour Representative for a local Destination Management Company.

What made you start litter picking and how long have you been doing it for? Actually the day that I arrived in the Seychelles, walking the beach in front of my apartment for the very first time picking up some plastic and other litter, MyBeachProject was born. Initially I was thinking I would do one bag every day, but sadly it got more and more. To keep it interesting for myself I started with some pop-up trash art on the beach after every cleanup. By creating something beautiful out of something rather ugly I wanted to raise awareness of plastic pollution and the fact that it doesn‘t spare paradise. My hope is to open people's eyes to this amazing nature right at their doorstep, to take on responsibility, treat it respectfully and care for it in a better way by not actively or ignorantly littering the beaches and trails. I recently celebrated my first anniversary with 180 cleanups. Doing the math I walked “my“ beach for roughly 1,080 km and collected around 40,000 pieces of trash this year!

That's incredible! And remind us how you get involved with Just1bag2020... Taking my project to Instagram I met so many awesome people around the world united by the same vision. This amazing energy keeps me motivated and makes me feel less alone on days when I’m overwhelmed thinking this is endless. That is how I came across your beautiful family project Just1Bag2020 and thought why not contribute a bag from the Seychelles. I continued to do so, watching you grow rapidly over the months. You told me how thrilled you were receiving my bag from a far away land which totally made my day as well.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever found? Besides a lot of regular weird things, I would say an orange meat grinder.

Hmm. That's a first :) So where's your favorite place to clean up, and are there any things you particularly enjoy finding? Just walking the 3km beach in front of my place is different every day and my favorite place, kind of meditative actually. My mind wonders off to what I want to achieve or could do next. Since I started announcing my cleanups for others to join it's also nice to check out other beaches or getting stuck at one spot and have this amazing before and after sensation. My favorite thing to pick up is anything unique or colorful, sparking an idea for my art. I get all excited and can’t wait to get to the end bringing it into the sand hoping it will turn out as I imagined it on my way.

It's been great to see more people joining in over the year. So what’s the best thing you’ve had someone say to you while litter picking?

Some simply thank me or wave while passing by on their boat. The biggest compliment is when someone says I inspire him/her. This happened locally and even someone in Hawaii posted a picture the other day, tagging me saying so. This is the best feeling and makes it all worth it.

Has picking up litter led to any other changes in your day to day life? It's definitely made me more aware of what to buy, and to try new ways avoiding plastic. Especially on an island, it is sometimes tricky. To get around the plastic water bottles in the shops I have refillable 20 liter water tanks with a small USB pump. On Saturdays I go to the small market with my nets but a lot of vegetables and fruits are still already packed in plastic bags. I've learned never to think my actions might be insignificant or won‘t make a difference. Collecting 40,000 pieces off this beach so far exceeded my wildest dreams or estimation of what I could pick up as a single person with my own hands.

If you could ban one piece of litter from the world what would it be? Definitely the mask. It's become the new plastic bottle!

What would you say to anyone who’s yet to collect Just1Bag? On your next stroll just take a bag with you and be more aware of the litter around. Even if it is not yours, pick it up. It doesn‘t have to be a huge haul, but you will definitely feel better after. Join this beautiful community of like-minded people especially during these uncertain times spreading positivity and hope. It is a total game changer.

Thanks so much, Stef. We're so grateful for everything you're doing on the Seychelles, and the support and inspiration you've provided to us this year! What's the best way for people to find out more about what you're doing?

If you'd like to support @MyBeachProject feel free to follow me on Instagram, like my posts, send me a coffee or help spread the message by wearing one of the shirts or bags I've designed from my art. These are sold at Spreadshirt and Redbubble. Thanks :)

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