AVIGNON, France—An activist on a more than 500-mile walk to raise awareness about plastic waste has already collected over 2,500 discarded coronavirus masks.

Eddie Platt, 42, originally from Leeds, England, is making his way across France, in an epic litter pickup that began at the Saint Charles train station in Marseille on Oct. 1 and is set to finish at the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris on Nov. 19. Marseille independent journalist and videographer Fred Munsch, 40, is tagging along to document the journey, dubbed “The March to End Littering between Marseille and Paris.”

Eddie Platt along with Fred Mensch are following this path from Marseille to Paris, France. (Frederic Munsch/Real Press)

Walking 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) a day for an eventual total of 880 kilometers (547 miles), the pair is following the high-speed TGV train route between the two cities, picking up rubbish as they go. They arrived in the city of Avignon on Oct. 19, after having picked up more than 250 masks that day alone. In total, the duo has collected 2,543 masks so far.

“People honk their horns at us in the street and generally want to talk to us and find out more about what they can do to reduce their reliance on plastic,” Platt, who moved to France in 2011, told Zenger News of the public’s reaction to his efforts.

He has grown increasingly concerned about the number of COVID-19 masks that have ended up discarded as the country, which has recorded over 1 million infections of the coronavirus and nearly 35,000 related deaths, battles the global pandemic. France is currently receiving shipments of over 100 million face masks a week, 75% of which are not recyclable, according to Platt. He added that most disposable face masks aren’t biodegradable because they contain plastic, and the majority end up in landfills or the sea.

They discovered  face masks, cigarette butts, and other rubbish as they walked into the city of Avignon.
(Edmund Platt/Real Press)

During his seven-week walk, the activist also plans to make several stops in schools to speak with students about the environment. He is additionally set to meet with environmental protection associations in hopes of organizing public cleanups in villages along his way.

Platt, who was dubbed the “English Snail” following a 2017 litter-picking mission around France, has authored a book in both French and English titled The Englishman Who Wanted to Clean Up France, which will be released upon his arrival in Paris. He is planning to release exclusive chapters from the French version throughout the march.

France is far from alone in seeking solutions to the litter problem posed by COVID-19 gear. Last month, for example, the mayor of Houston unveiled an anti-litter campaign to encourage residents of America’s fourth-largest city to properly dispose of face masks, gloves, sanitizer wipes and other trash.

Worldwide, more than 8.3 billion tons of plastic are estimated to have been produced since the 1950s, about 60% of which has ended up in a landfill or the natural environment, including oceans. The most common plastic items found in the natural environments include cigarette butts, bottles, bottle caps, food wrappers, grocery bags, drink lids, straws and stirrers.

Scientists have warned that if current trends continue, the world’s oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050.

(Edited by Carlin Becker and Matthew Hall)

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