Swimming for a Cleaner World. Interview with Enzo Favoino

Enzo Favoino is the Scientific Coordinator of Zero Waste Europe and Member of the Board of ZWIA; he chairs the Scientific Committee of Zero Waste Italy. Enzo is often involved as an expert in surveys and research programmes about sustainable management of resources and discards promoted by the EU, and has now combined his environmental expertise with his passion for swimming, resulting in the Eco Swims initiative. The next Eco-Swim is taking place in Sicily, Isola delle Femmine (near Palermo) October 7–9. We decided to find out more about the initiative and the passionate swimmer behind it.

How did you come up with the idea of this project? To me it (also) seems that connecting people to places that need protection by those same people is the most organic thing to do. Tell me a bit more about the whole thought process behind the initiative. Also who have been your partners, how have you managed to get your message to the people you want to engage?

Enzo Favoino

Enzo Favoino at the end of an icy swim in Lake Bled, Slovenia

This is basically a way of blending two things that rank at the top of my interests: sustainability and my passion for swimming in open waters.

The first relates to my role and long-term commitment to sustainable management of discards and Zero Waste strategies. Working at Scuola Agraria del Parco di Monza (a non-profit RTD centre) I was an early promoter of intensive kerbside (separate collection) schemes across Europe, a founder of the European Compost Network, and currently act with Zero Waste Europe, where I sit as the Scientific Coordinator (in which role I’m cooperating with LDIW).

Coming to my swimming practice, I’m an open water swimmer, and I practice regularly in lakes and seas (once a week I swim distances ranging 510 kilometres, although sometimes I swim longer distances: a few days ago we did 21 km in a Channel that flows through Milan). I also practice open water swimming in the winter: as a matter of fact, I also practice ice swimming a practice which is fairly popular in Estonia! I was in Tallinn in February 2016, one of the seven people who dared to swim the 1000 m in the Pirita Open at 0.5°C.

Hence, it was kind of “logical” to try and use my two passions for each other’s benefit. Environmental sustainability and the war on litter help us keep clean waters and oceans. In turn, I told myself, swimming may help environmental campaigns, if it manages to get some attention in the media.

With Eco-swims, we may attract the media to the issues of littering and clean-ups on the shores, but also on the need to raise awareness on separate collection.

Also, Ice swims (which are a powerful creator of impact on the media imagine swimming 1 km in waters where most wouldn’t even make a quick dip…) have the specific angle of raising awareness on climate change, the need to fight global warming and the way Zero Waste programmes may help in this respect (we know that with maximising recycling and reducing waste, we minimise greenhouse gases). For this, with some Zero Waste fellows from South America who support the campaign we have defined the slogan “Be cool, keep it cold!” with related branding.

Looking at the global picture, it seems that linking swimming, open waters, and the fight on litter, things gets more and more promising. You may have noticed, for instance, what they did in Mumbai with the clean-up on the beach that involved Lewis Pugh, another open water swimmer who promotes the environmental protection of seas and lakes.

Hence, I’ll try to establish a consistent connection with other swimmers (including Lewis) for possible co-branding and coordinated campaigns.

Also, I happen to be in acquaintance with Charles Moore, “Captain Moore”, who drew global attention to the big plastic gyro in the Pacific Ocean. We toured together last year with Zero Waste Dream Team Tour. This might be another powerful connection for mutual promotion of eco-swims, clean-ups and the protection of the marine environment.

What about obstacles? Have you encountered any?

No big one, for the moment but the effort of getting our messages into the public arena.

But the absence of obstacles maybe relates to the fact that so far we have prioritised a bottom-up organisation of events, with no need for funding/support whatsoever by central institutions, maybe just the patronage and some organisational help from the concerned local municipalities. In other words: we pick the location ideally, connected with other concurrent events, e.g. a conference where I am planned to speak, so that I do not incur extra-costs for the flight or accommodation. Then we simply define the swimming route, and we send out press releases to the media announcing the Eco-swim, to get coverage. Then we use social networks to promote and it goes broadly. Thank God, I may use my role in the Zero Waste and NGO networks related in that area, to involve as many people as possible and create a multiplying effect reaching out to their contacts.

This simple scheme keeps us free with the programme and with the message we want to get across, and simplifies the organising. Needless to say, I do hope this will grow in time and attract more and more interest, hence it may grow into bigger events, maybe coordinated at various locations across a country or the world, in which case why not? a ministry or a region might consider budgeting for the ancillary expenses (e.g. providing tools for people doing the clean-up on the shore, covering costs of transportation or fees for the accompanying boats if any) but we’ll see in the future.

One more thing I do care about a lot: aspirationally, these are planned to be events which are as involving as possible. Each and every person must feel essential to the event. And also the swims may be more inclusive. No need to swim it all, 10 km are out of reach for most swimmers (and many may fear what I happen to love, i.e. the deep blue of the water and high waves on the surface of seas, and the jellyfish…) but some may consider joining the swim for a shorter route, or just for the final km or so to make it more joyful (and better for the media to cover as well). Also with ice swims, I may be doing what seems intriguing for the media (1 km in icy waters!) but others may do that (or less) with the wetsuit, just to share the joyful event. You see, different ways to feel part of the event – all of them going in the same direction.



Eco-Swim in Sicily, Isola delle Femmine:

Oct 7, Eco-swim: Enzo willl be swimming 9 km across the Gulf of Carini, with concurrent groups on the shore to do the clean-ups of beaches and raise awareness on separate collection.

Oct 8: workshop/conference on Zero Waste strategies in tourist areas. The event will be attended by experts of national and international reputation in the field of selective collection including Enzo Favoino , Walter Giacetti and Salvatore Genova.

Oct 9: trekking to a Natural Protected Area


Read more about the programme here.

Get in touch with Enzo Favoino via his Facebook page.



By Helena Läks, Let’s Do It! Newsletter team