Posted Sep 28, 2022, 7:00 AM
It floats like a perfume of heritage which has not escaped the walkers from Marseille who came en masse to visit the Plastic Odyssey ship moored for a few days at the foot of the Mucem. Same measurements as Captain Cousteau’s Calypso, same oceanographic silhouette, same massive and proud look…
After three years of preparation, this ambassador of ecological transition will weigh anchor on October 1 for an educational journey around the globe. At each of its 30 stops around the world, its team hopes to train entrepreneurs in its plastic recycling micro-factories, housed in shipping containers to manufacture fuel by pyrolysis of waste and new alternative materials to wood, for example.
At his command, two young sailors in their thirties, Simon Bernard and Alexandre Dechelotte, accomplices in life and in business. These two were made for each other: the same childhood punctuated by long wild camping trips in contact with nature, the same early taste for impossible DIY, a passion for the horizons and the seabed, the horror of routine and entrepreneurship pegged to the body.
Together, they sat on the benches of the Ecole de la Marine Marchande in Marseille, class of 2011. Together, they began to dream of navigation that made sense. Together, they imagined traveling the oceans to promote the recycling of plastic waste. And together, they divided up the tasks: to Simon, champion of the stands, the task of convincing investors; to Alexandre, passionate about photography, that of communicating.
Zero plastic, zero stress
Thanks to this agreement, they were able to raise the 10 million euros necessary for the purchase and restoration of their ship, a former German scientific exploration vessel, but also to finance a good part of the three years of planned shipment. On board, they are the Pashas at the head of a crew of 10 members under orders. The atmosphere is friendly (the average age does not exceed 30) but determined.
The instructions are clear: zero plastic on board, zero stress. “We have been through enough hardships before setting sail (the discovery of hidden defects which have increased the bill) to forge us an agile command mode”explains Simon Bernard.
From the age of 7, this one dabbles in the turquoise waters of Cargèse where his parents, teachers and nature sports enthusiasts, spend all their summers with around thirty other families. “There was a wild dump nearby where I collected materials to make useful objects for our wanderings: a radiator to heat our showers, floats for surfing…”, remembers this native of Concarneau. He has an obsession: perpetual motion, the basis of the circular economy, like this water-recycling bathtub for which he presented the plans to the Science & Vie Junior competition.
achieve the impossible
He could then have met his sidekick Alexandre who also contributes to the check for 1,000 euros offered by the magazine with the plans for an all-purpose agricultural machine. Like Simon, this Bordelais learns very early to confront the elements. At the age of 5, he was already piloting the family Zodiac on the island of Houat where his parents – an English teacher and wine merchant – have their summer habits. “My vocation as a sailor comes from there”. At the age of 17, before entering prep school, he was a sailor on sailboat and yacht deliveries. Camera slung over his shoulder, he matured his taste for images and digital DIY on retouching software.
If he gets closer to Simon from the start of their higher education, it’s because he prefers, like him, spending his free time inventing new things rather than going out to bars or basking on the beach.
“These two are really crazydrums their new friend Raphaël Domjan, at the origin of the PlanetSolar boat and the SolarStratos plane which tumbles the bag full of gifts during our interview. They are neither rich, nor known and without a network and yet they have achieved the impossible”.
Easy-tech and low-cost
Their rise was rapid. Simon and Alexandre, each on their own, have forged an entrepreneurial soul: Simon was 23 when he was appointed engineer officer then shift supervisor of a 2,000-person ferry that had to navigate between contrary currents, rocks and maritime highway he is starting his fourth year of studies. “This responsibility gave me the confidence to undertake”recognizes this angel’s face whose youthful face worried most passengers.
Before that, he had won the innovation prize at the Hydro Contest by presenting the model of a semi-submersible boat capable of carrying a heavy load with minimum consumption: “It won’t work, naval architects predicted to me, but I proved the opposite and raised the necessary funds for its construction”.
During this time, Alexandre also cut his teeth as an apprentice entrepreneur while working as a cadet on a cable ship. In the third year of the Merchant Navy, he developed an application, TaketheSuite, which facilitates student roommates, then got involved in associations with Green Active, an innovative recycling organization located in Bordeaux. “Our common past has forged my complicity with Simon and the same desire: to explore easy-tech, low-cost and easily democratized recycling solutions”, he explains. Even before beginning its journey, Plastic Odyssey is already transporting five micro-factories to Africa.
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