There’s plenty of information telling us why we should be aiming towards zero waste and plastic-free living. They’re admirable ambitions, obviously, but what about the rubbish that is already polluting our beautiful planet?
Approximately 3.5 million tons of solid waste are dumped around the world, every year. That’s a phenomenal amount of junk left lying around, slowly leaking chemicals and toxins into our soil, our water, and our wildlife.
But there is hope: annual global movement, World Cleanup Day, is gathering pace. Uniting environmentalists everywhere, in 2019 over 21.2 million people, from 180 countries, took part. Villages, towns, cities, parks, forests and beaches all benefitted from mass trash removal, and the event raised awareness of mismanaged waste and the environmental challenges it brings.
Each country is assigned a leader and given support and resources to create their own waste-clearing and awareness campaign, which differs depending on their most urgent concerns.
This year, World Cleanup Day is on Saturday 19th September: why not join in and show the Earth that you care?
How did it begin?
It started in Estonia, in an effort to tackle the illegally dumped waste that littered the country. An event called ‘Let’s Do It 2008!’ encouraged 50,000 people to join forces for five hours and clean up. Media coverage ensured that interest spread throughout Europe, with Lithuania and Latvia organising their own versions the following year. By the end of 2011, over 2.5 million people, in 16 countries had joined in with Let’s Do It’s idea.
2012 saw ‘World Cleanup 2012’, a sustained six-month clean-up campaign across 96 countries. The Let’s Do It Clean World Conference in Kosovo, in 2014, set out an even more ambitious target: to involve 5% of the world’s population in their global cleanse, by 2018.
The Let’s Do It Foundation coordinated the first ever World Cleanup Day in 2018. It didn’t make the numbers they’d hoped for but still managed to attract an impressive 17.6 million people across 157 countries, and collect over 88,500 tons of waste. This increased to over 100,000 tons in 2019.
The responsibility for World Cleanup Day was then handed over to Let’s Do It World, their non-governmental organisation (NGO). This also organises Digital Cleanup Day, as well as a campaign to take on the scourge of abandoned cigarette butts.
According to their website, Let’s Do It World ‘connects and empowers people and organisations to drive positive change for smarter choices in design, production, consumption, and resource management.’ This includes the global network of organisations and leaders from 180 countries that work together during World Cleanup Day.
The Foundation now concentrates on the Keep It Clean Plan, their vision for better management of resources and waste. It offers strategies for communities who want to improve their waste situation, and supports the adoption of innovative, sustainable resource management systems and technology.
An issue for all
World Cleanup Day brings together many disparate groups across the globe, and the website cites examples of some of the people who get stuck in. An elderly man in Curaçao, mothers with babies in Estonia and a dog association in Scotland: rich, poor, old, young, able or disabled, everyone is united by a desire to help.
How can you get involved in World Cleanup Day?
There are several ways you can be a part of the initiative although, obviously, some may be affected by the Government’s current coronavirus guidance for gatherings.
Join an existing clean-up
Click on the World Cleanup Day map and you’ll find details of anything happening near you. You’ll see exactly what’s planned and how to register your interest, plus links to any other event-specific sites that have been set up. You’ll also be able to see the contact details of the Cleanup Day leader for your country.
Organise your own event
If there’s nothing happening where you live, why not organise your own activity instead? The site has a toolkit to help you set up and run a clean-up session in your community, and you could advertise on posters and social media to attract more volunteers.
Think of all the places around you that could do with a tidy: hedges, verges, ponds, play areas, alleyways, car parks and shopping precincts, to name just a few. Remember to take strong bags, litter pickers, protective gloves and lots of hand sanitiser!
Go it alone
If a group meet-up is not possible, you can still contribute, either on your own or as a family effort. Whether you spruce up the pavement around your own house, clear the litter from your street, or tackle a larger area, you’ll be part of an amazing (and enormous!) group of people who are bonded by their love for the Earth.
Keep it going
World Cleanup Day is a great way to start but don’t feel you need to limit your litter-removal to just one day! It doesn’t have to eat into your free time, either: try incorporating it into your usual routines. If you walk to work or on the school run, or to the shops during your lunch break, consider carrying a bag and gloves with you, and picking up rubbish on a daily basis. You might even inspire others to do the same!
You can also help future Cleanup days by downloading their partner app, TrashOut (available via Google Play and Apple’s App Store) which enables you to log instances of unwanted refuse or fly-tipping wherever you see it. This enables Let’s Do It World to better understand the scale of the waste challenge, and plan for the future.
And of course, the easiest way to help prevent unwanted waste is to not buy disposable, dump-able products in the first place. Do a quick audit of all the things you use on a daily basis, and see how many you can replace with lovely eco-friendly alternatives!