Albania Creating Social and Cultural Change Through Massive Waste Clean-Ups

Let’s Do It! Albania (Ta Pastrojmë Shqipërinë) held a massive civic-led clean-up day on November 20 with more than 150 000 people who cleaned up 5000 tonnes of waste. The action has increased the popularity of volunteering and brought environmental topics to the everyday agenda. We asked a few questions from Ervin Shehaj, the man behind the campaign, whose goal is to manifest a social change in the country.

Where do people dump the most? Why?

People dump everywhere they can. Losing contact with the environment, lack of education and knowledge about the consequences of their actions, is the main problem in Albania. There is all kinds of waste: urban waste, solid waste, construction waste, old dump sites… This shows that all of us have contributed to the creation of a cohabitation with waste.

What type of waste was most common?

The most common waste we’ve collected in Albania is plastic bags and plastic bottles. The most unique thing that I found during the clean-up was a head of a mannequin in Ishem River Delta. At first I was scared as hell, because for a moment it looked as if it was a human head.

You have been involving a lot of people, and it’s not the first time you’ve organised such a massive campaign. Still we can see a lot of illegal waste around. How do you hope to change that?

ervin_shehaj_1-200x300Well, there are a lot of problems in Albania – social, economic, educational, institutional, political. We have lost our connection with nature, we don’t feel it. We don’t have enough knowledge, we don’t have a strong sense of community. The change from the former regime of communism to democracy is still taking some time here. Inner migration of the population from villages to cities, and from small cities to big cities has also changed our country.

We hope to change this lack of awareness and care by involving our young generation in the movement, and by addressing the problem by peer pressure. Let’s Do It! has had a big impact on Albania by increasing the popularity of volunteering, and making environmental problems an everyday issue. Among the young generation, cleaning up and volunteering is becoming trendy, so youngsters have started to pay attention to civic engagement. We can say that we have less waste than a few years ago, but it is still too much indeed.

Why have you set the focus on young people? They are not the ones leaving massive amounts of construction waste behind.

The focus is on young people because if we want to bring the change in mentality concerning waste management and environmental issues, we have to educate and empower them. Dumping waste in Albania is something that all age groups are doing. It is a common issue. We are living “in harmony” with trash and this is what we are trying to change, this ugly habit. We have involved all groups in the clean-up, but as Albania is one of the countries with the youngest population, the young generation is very important for us.

How do you deal with the collected waste? Where will it be sent? Who takes care of it?

We have close collaboration with local government, waste management companies and recycling companies, that take care of the waste management process during our clean-up campaign.


Do you have a lot of partners who help you with different aspects?

We have had many partners among NGOs and we have included almost all Albanian municipalities, the majority of schools at the national level, and many public and private organisations.

In which areas do you still need to get a lot more done?

Even though people in Albania are becoming more aware, many of them refuse the responsibility for taking care of their own environment. We as volunteers, in the last two years, have showed that we have the will to change the situation. On the other hand, the local authorities are not as engaged. We surely need a change of strategy to make authorities a more active part of cleaning up Albania from waste.

Is it hard to involve and cooperate with local municipalities and authorities?

Our cooperation with central and local authorities has changed over the years. They are now more open to collaboration and have started to pay more attention to protection of the environment and waste management. But more needs to be done. They have started to build landfills according to EU standards, and also a few days ago the government approved a moratorium which prohibits the cutting of forests for 10 years (as in the last 25 years we have destroyed a lot of our forests). I think the support for the civic society is still too weak.


What have been the reactions and impressions of local people? Any interesting stories?

We get different reactions. Some people believe that this is not our duty to clean up as we pay taxes already. Others see Let’s Do It! actions as a great contribution we are giving to the country. The action itself is a nice story, this was the fifth national clean-up action within two years, all challenges and obstacles we have been passing through this two years are “The Story”. My personal story is – I want to change Albania.

Maybe it seems crazy but it is not impossible. I think we all came into this life to do something great and to leave a sign behind. The sign I want to leave is to do my part for a better Albania.  Being part of this country, having my roots here I want to leave our kids, for ourselves and for the future generations to come, something better than we have now. It’s not easy – it’s simple.

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In 2014, 112 000 people attended the nation wide clean-up day in Albania. In 2013 it was 147 000 people. Albania’s population is about 2,9 million. Find out more about Albania from Wikipedia. Check out Let’s Do It! Albania on Facebook.


By Meelika Hirmo, the Head of Public Relations of Let’s Do It! World