Photo shows students from Lycée Belval who asked their teacher to contact "Mr Pick It Up" after hearing about the initiative in the press
Photo: Pick It Up Luxembourg
When Belgian national Didier Picard suffered serious back problems and began reflecting on the direction of his career, little did he know he would inspire a national movement.
The father-of-four had been working in marketing for 15 years when he suffered a cervical hernia, causing loss of feeling in his hand and making it painful to sit. “It made me think about the question for meaning in relation to my professional life,” he told Delano, explaining that it prompted him to listen to his body, stop working and start walking.
“I started walking for half an hour every day. Because I noticed there was a lot of rubbish in places I walked, I decided to pick it,” he said. “During that half hour I knew I’d be doing my body and the environment good.”
To force himself to walk more, he set himself the goal to walk for 30 minutes every day during the month of March.
Didier Picard, pictured, founded Pick It Up Luxembourg after documenting the rubbish he picked up on his daily walks. Photo: Delano
After posting photos on social media of the rubbish he collected during his stroll, Picard's challenge quickly attracted attention from local media and snowballed. He took part in the Grouss Botz (big clean-up) organised by his commune, Mamer, he organised a collection in the Pétrusse park, began giving talks in schools, and did a campaign during the Tour de Luxembourg.
“People told me what I’m doing is great and that I should continue […] They wanted to develop the littering theme and collaborate,” he said. A few months later and following huge levels of interest, it became clear that Picard needed a formal structure. In June he founded the not-for-profit Pick It Up Luxembourg, an organisation which today has around 850 followers on the Pick It Up Luxembourg Facebook page and which inspired a spin-off group, the “The Pickies Up”, with around 400 members.
A collection with the commune of Reckange-sur-Mess found cans, bottles and a hairdryer. Photo: Pick It Up Luxembourg
Picard, who says his role is not to judge but to bear witness, has already picked up hundreds of kilos of waste, most of it from roadsides. “It’s cans, plastic bottles, fast-food packaging thrown from the car,” he said, adding there were a lot of empty bottles of strong alcohol. The strangest items he found were a vibrator and a hair dryer which had been discarded in a field. In some areas littering is so bad, Picard says he barely walks a kilometer “because it’s like a squat workout. I’m picking stuff up every 50 centimetres!”
Another frequently collected nuisance but which is less visible is cigarette butts. Studies show that a single cigarette butt left in a litre of water for 24 hours would release enough toxins to kill half of the fish exposed to it over 96 hours. The plastic filter, meanwhile, contains over 1,000 toxic chemicals and will break down into microplastics which, if not removed, will enter the water system.
A child shows a handful of cigarette butts picked up during a collection. Photo: Pick It Up Luxembourg
Picard continues to work with schools and organisations like IMS Luxembourg and natur&emwelt to encourage people and businesses to organise their own initiatives, like plogging, a Swedish activity involving jogging while picking up litter.
Importantly, the social entrepreneur is content that he is able to pursue his voaction as a communicator only now it has greater meaning: “I’m no longer communicating a product but a problem […] and everyone is responsible.”
Drawing inspiration from the vast amount of single-use plastics that he picked up, Picard is also working on a project with support from the House of Entrepreneurship to reduce single-use plastic in the food and beverages sector in Luxembourg.