Do you remember her? Last summer (2020) Myra Stals has cycled along the Via Francigena with her special cargo bike. Armed with her inseparable “pinza” (i.e. plastic trash picker) she travelled for more than 5000km, collecting many kilograms of plastic waste.
The goal of this endeavour was to raise more awareness about plastic pollution and to reveal how much plastic waste can be found along our streets and in our forests. Myra is originally from the Netherlands, she speaks 5 different languages and has been living in Italy for over 8 years where she has previously worked in the field of international higher education. The moment Myra heard about the job opening at EAVF, she applied with great enthusiasm. But even greater was the enthusiasm of EAVF, happy that a professional of her calibre would be joining the team. Myra has definitely earned her job thanks to her efforts in the field, covering thousands of kilometres up and down the entire peninsula, a large part of which along the Via Francigena. We would like to present her through this interview:
Myra, above all: welcome aboard! What has motivated you to join the Via Francigena crew?
Thank you, I’m incredibly happy to be part of the team! The Via Francigena represents so many aspects that are very close to me, that it would’ve been very difficult for me to find a better fitting job: it promotes a sustainable way of travelling by foot and by bicycle with basically a zero-carbon footprint, it fosters closeness to nature, encourages contact and exchange with local residents, it’s a great way to learn more about the history and cultural heritage that can be found everywhere along the itinerary. And this all in a non-profit setting! I truly could not have wished for a better job!
You cycled along the Via Francigena as part of Cycle 2 Recycle. Tell us, what is this project about?
Cycle 2 Recycle is an initiative I set up almost two years ago, when I decided to combine my passion for bike touring with my passion for the environment. I had already undertaken two long bicycle tours at the time, and was horrified by the huge amounts of plastic waste I found everywhere along the road. That’s when I decided I wanted to make a statement; I couldn’t stand being a passive bystander anymore.
In the summer of 2019 I cycled 2000km with my (non-electric!) cargo bike across 6 different European countries and crossing the Alps twice, while last summer I cycled more than 5000km across the entire Italian peninsula. Along the road I try to pick up as much plastic waste as possible, to send a clear message and raise more awareness about the huge problem that is plastic pollution.
This summer you travelled the Via Francigena by bicycle. What has impressed you the most?
The friendliness of the locals who greeted, welcomed, and hosted me in their respective communities. Of course, also the beauty of the ever-changing landscape is something I will never forget, but it’s the heart-warming hospitality of the locals that has definitely impressed me the most.
What would you improve?
I would invest in the positioning of (more) trash cans along the itinerary where there are none, because some stretches don’t have any at all. I would also suggest the positioning of bicycle repair stations along the route, where people can use tools free of charge to fix and repair their bikes in moments of need, or simply just put a little bit more air in their tires. I would also start work on the GPS tracks specifically designed for cyclists from Canterbury to the Great St. Bernard Pass and from Rome to Santa Maria di Leuca in Puglia. I also think that mapping the different kinds of road surfaces could be useful for cyclists travelling the Via Francigena.
Do you think that the Via Francigena could play an important role in the (re)launch of slow tourism?
Oh, absolutely! I think that the Via Francigena is one of the main and most important pillars for the promotion of slow tourism in Italy but also in Europe. The number of people who choose the Via Francigena as their destination is growing every year, and luckily ever more people find out about the existence of this amazing cammino. And I believe that the EAVF’s participation in the new European rurAllure project is going to be a great steppingstone for the Via Francigena to continue to gain more international fame and therefore also continue to attract pilgrims from all over the world.
How was it to collect plastic along the Via? Pass or fail? Which was the most polluted stretch?
Wherever no cars can pass, there’s usually less (plastic) waste to be found. This means that the parts of the Via Francigena that are accessible only to hikers and cyclists were relatively clean. This however doesn’t mean that they were free from plastic pollution. Often bottles and other plastic objects are well hidden between the grass or have been thrown slightly off the trail. The most polluted stretch without a doubt was the Via Francigena of the South, starting even a little bit before Rome when I was approaching the outskirts of the Eternal City. And the more I went south, the worse it got. This however is not a problem only along the Via Francigena; unfortunately it’s a well-known problem in all the southern Italian regions.
How many kilos of plastic waste did you pick up while cycling along the Via Francigena?
I don’t remember the exact amount collected along the Via Francigena, but I remember that when I was in the town of Cerignola (Puglia) I reached 28,20kg. This means that by the time I reached Santa Maria di Leuca I definitely passed the 30kg mark. This doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but considering that plastic is very light and that an empty 500ml plastic bottle weighs 10 grams, it is the equivalent of 3000 empty plastic bottles.
We cannot but thank Myra for her amazing efforts this summer and wish her all the best of luck in her new job!