AIX-EN-PROVENCE â€" Over the past two days, Hervé Pighiera has picked up 118 cigarette butts, 60 cigarette packs, 69 plastic bottles and 7.75 kilos of non-classifiable garbage, including a little dollhouse armchair made of wicker and plastic.
Pighiera is on a mission to clean roadsides. On July 12, this smiling fellow in a straw hat, with curly hair and a thick beard, left on foot from Aix-en-Provence, almost 800 kilometers from Paris, heading towards the capital. Since then, he has been collecting garbage and logging everything he picks up as a way to denounce the mountains of trash that our society produces. "I donâ€™t want to be one of those who knew and did nothing," he says.
So he walks, dragging a big bin behind him, filling it as he goes. With a few stops along the way, he plans to arrive at the Paris-Le Bourget conference venue on Nov. 30 for the COP21 United Nations Conference on Climate Change. He will come armed with firm beliefs and his harvest of damning statistics. "I collect on average 600 pieces of garbage every day, and even more when I get closer to cities," he says.
The roadsides are littered with all sorts of trash and sometimes odd objects that owners must have lost by accident. He's already found "a screwdriver, T-shirts, baby pajamas, a plastic watering can, a National Front membership card, pie-baking dishes, bolts, a pair of size 13 shoes, a phone, a condom â€" still in its packaging â€" and road maps,â€ he enumerates.
A lifelong commitment
Pighiera's garbage-picking vocation started in childhood. "I used to go pick up mushrooms with two bags: one for the mushrooms, the other for the trash," he says. And growing up with an anarchist father who found Christian faith late, and a sister who became a geographer, his environmental awareness developed. Did you know, for example, that a single cigarette butt can pollute up to 500 liters of water?
"The walk is an excuse to talk about illegal dumps, nuclear energy, wind turbines and our un-eco-friendly lifestyles," he says. "We now have a duty to repair the damage done to the planet."
A trip to Latin America last year left him shocked at the omnipresence of unauthorized dumps, sometimes in the most beautiful of places, especially in Peru. "When I came back to France in February, I thought we should take advantage of the COP21 conference to raise people's awareness," he says. He worked on the project for two months, and after a four-day trial, he started his long march.
But Pighiera doesn't travel alone. Lola Orsoni, 24, handles the logistics. Slim, dark-haired and clearly determined, she just finished her studies in urban management. The two met three years ago at a couchsurfing event in Aix-en-Provence.
Lola is the other face of this project. She's the one driving the car and the trailer where they keep what's collected. She also picks up the bin bags that Pighiera leaves behind for her. They weigh them, open them and thoroughly inventory the content every other day for their statistics, before throwing it all in proper waste containers.
They arenâ€™t traveling to Paris via a straight line. The invitations, people they meet, camping sites where they're offered free night stays or restaurants offering them complimentary meals mean they're always making little detours. They also take advantage of their adventure to encourage people to fight against projects that threaten the environment.
Other breaks are more poetic, like their two-day stay at Guédélon, where a group of people are building a medieval castle using only ancient techniques. It's a joy to watch for Pighiera, whose real job is as a builder.
Publicity for the cause
The adventure has also visibly brought him some notoriety. A truck suddenly stops after passing us. The driver jumps out of his vehicle and says, smiling, "I recognize you. I saw you on TV." That was a few weeks ago, during the Tour de France, publicity that brought him many new supporters. After a quick chat, the truck driver gives him a bottle of coke and a pack of cookies "for the road," he says.
Pighiera and Lola resume their journey. His grabbing stick barely stops moving between the ground and the bin. "The plastic that's been left outside in the sun decomposes itself into little particles that are hard to grab and that stay in the ground," he says. Also high on his list of annoying waste are the energy shot bottles, which cyclists leave on the roadside.
Around him the French countryside with its freshly ploughed fields are spotted with forests here and there. Cows stare at him as he walks past. It's a beautiful day, and others like the truck driver stop to congratulate him and have a chat.
At noon, Pighiera and Lola stop in a small park lot. One by one, they empty the bags they've been filling since yesterday in the trailer. Gloves on, the two hurry to divide the waste into different buckets: cigarette packs, plastic bottles, and everything else that can't be recycled. "We keep record of the amount of garbage, the weight, the main brands, and we publish the information on our website," he explains.
They want to highlight the part that companies play. "The consumer is not the only one to blame," he says. "It's also important to point out the responsibility of the authorities and the manufacturers. The law could, for example, tax non-biodegradable packaging to force companies to use other materials and in smaller quantities."
The figures are indeed alarming. After 50 days and 862 kilometers, the two have collected a mountain of garbage: 272 kilos of non-recyclable waste, 103 kilos of glass, 137.5 kilos of metal, 51.5 kilos of recyclable plastic, 32 kilos of paper and 3,324 cigarette packs.
And they're not done yet.
It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.
PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.
Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.
Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.
Share capital of one billion
The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).
The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.
Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.
While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.
The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down
Raising Initial Coin Offering
Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.
For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."
What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".
Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.
Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.
Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.
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