In a Few Months, More Than a Million Volunteers Cleaned up Trash Weighing More Than 200 Boeing 737 Aircrafts

Around 1 million Let’s Do It! activists in 14 countries helped the planet become cleaner by participating in massive cleanup actions from April to June. Volunteers cleaned up around 9000 tonnes of waste, equivalent to more than 200 Boeing 737 airplanes – one of the most common airplanes. Some reports about waste collection are still to be gathered.

By Jérôme Scherer

Keeping the spirits up at a clean-up in Ukraine, 2017. Photo: Valentin V. Gaichuk

Why are we still doing cleanups?

Let’s Do It! is an international movement that aims to fight against the trash problem. It started in 2008, in Estonia when 50 000 people cleaned up the entire country in just 5 hours, gathering 10 000 tonnes of waste. Since then, a lot of countries worldwide have joined the movement for a clean waste-free world.

Let’s Do It! actions have involved close to 20 million volunteers who have taken an active stand against the waste problem in their home countries. This year, 9 countries have organized nation-wide cleanups so far meanwhile 8 other countries have been acting on a regional scale.

Anna Dapshevichyute, the coordinator of Let’s Do It! Belarus, admits that the awareness and behavior in Belarus has still a long way to go though. The cleanups in Belarus have been on a smaller scale till now and they haven’t reached the heart and minds of enough people yet. “In Belarus, despite our efforts and dreams, the amount of garbage and the number of waste dumps are not decreasing at a high speed. The number and the scale of clean-ups are growing, but new garbage appears every new season,” she explains.

Luan Hasanaj, the leader of Let’s Do It! Kosovo is sharing these worries: “Kosovo faces a very sensitive situation regarding the environment, due to some challenges such as the lack of waste sorting and recycling systems. As a result of this, we have a quite big number of landfills in our country,” he observes. Helena Traub, coordinator of Let’s Do It! Croatia seconds her colleagues from Belarus and Kosovo: “The situation with littering and waste is still concerning and worrying since people are not fully aware of the importance of separating litter, recycling and reusing items.”

Do cleanups make any difference at all?

Even though there is still work to do, one can see the impact of mass movements when it comes to waste cleanups. Kristina Baranovaitė, the coordinator of Let’s Do It! Lithuania can say her country has seen an impact: “The situation with littering and waste is improving every year. If we compared Lithuania in 2008, when Let’s Do It! action started here, with 2017, every citizen would say that this country experienced a massive positive change.” In Kosovo, Luan Hasanaj describes a powerful impact, even though the littering and illegal waste is still an issue: “Let’s Do It! Kosovo, has managed to make the environment a topic of debates in all government and nongovernmental structures. That was previously not even something we would discuss.” Let’s Do It! Kosovo has now spread in all municipalities of the country, making it the biggest volunteering network raising a new generation of active citizens.

Such examples of open discussions and debate are now the case in many countries which didn’t pay much attention to illegal dumping and the waste problem before. It has become apparent, that Let’s Do It! actions are not just about cleaning up what people have irresponsibly thrown into the natural environment and the streets, but it’s also a way to learn about personal contribution, community feeling and volunteering for a greater good in general.

“There’s a feeling that as time goes by, the idea of the countrywide cleanup has passed from the level of mind and emotions into our sub-consciousness and hearts. This means that the desire to clean up Latvia and make it the greenest country has been engrained in the nation thanks to 10 years of intensive work. Today people don’t have to be motivated to participate in environmental cleaning activities, everyone takes part in the cleanup from their own will, meaning that people truly want Latvia to be green,” said Vita Jaunzeme, the coordinator of Let’s Do It! Latvia.

“We have found a common element, which has united us all, promoting kindness, compassion, love, patriotism and pride in everyone. Because after the cleanup we are all proud of the work we’ve done. The cleanup and the green mindset unite Latvians, both those who have left their homeland and those who live here. This green idea is so unifying that it could create a new surge of patriotism in which all would ignite for a common goal that we finally need as a country,” she added.

History in the making. Cleanup action in Croatia 2017. Photo: Let’s Do It! Croatia

What do people throw away in their natural surroundings?

According to the reports made by the countries, the most common waste types are food packaging, old glass and plastic bottles. Not surprising. But volunteers sometimes make rare findings! This year, a gun has been found in Vilnius, Lithuania, which has been immediately removed and properly handled by the police. In Croatia, a place with 150 car tires was spotted and cleared. In Latvia, people found a champagne bottle from 1992. Empty, unfortunately, the Latvians reported. In Cezch Republic, grenades were found. Volunteers also found a crossbow, a typing machine and balloon with a message from German children. What goes around comes around. Trash tends to go in circulation and crosses even the country borders.

Life After the big cleanup action?

The Let’s Do It! teams all over the world are currently focused in organizing country-wide cleanup campaigns for the World Cleanup Day 2018, which takes place on September 15th. Meanwhile, some teams such as Kosovo are making steps forward by involving governments to initiate changes in the system that’s currently stopping them from having a clean country. Luan Hanasaj explains: “The environmental tax that citizens pay when registering a car, and which costs 10 euros, and any other tax, goes directly to the general budget of the Government. We are looking for this to be changed, to create Eco Fund to gather money that would be invested in the environment. For this, we are putting pressure on the Ministry of Environment.” Systematic change is also in the minds of other countries. Slovenia, for example, has reached furthest aiming to apply a nation-wide Zero Waste strategy which would not only take care of littering, but also waste creation as well. Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, is most likely going to be the world’s first Zero Waste capital, according to Zero Waste Europe. Movement towards the Zero Waste also started with Let’s Do It! campaign when Slovenians involved an incredible 14% of the population to clean up waste in just one day.

Join us in making history!

In 2018, the Let’s Do It! network is focused on the ambitious goal of cleaning up the world from waste in one massive effort. The plan is to get 150 countries on board for one day of extraordinary action and cooperation.

If Let’s Do It! activists and partners succeed, World Cleanup Day will be the biggest positive one day civic action in our history. The 5% represents the estimated proportion of people necessary to create lasting change (so called “critical mass”) and go beyond just one day of incredible activism. On the 15th of September in 2018, everyone has the chance to become part of making a positive history. Join Let’s Do It! as a volunteer and see more information here: www.letsdoitworld.org