Mapping the environment: how to clean Hrvatska with “teen-technology”

Dawn of a Hundred Screams

Opatija, 21th March 2018.– A foggy cloud melts around a hundred trees within the hills. We feel the airy cold of the leftover dew, smell the wet and fertile soil, and hear the moss, leafs and branches crumbling under our feet as we continue moving forward. But even if the sun hasn’t appeared here yet, at the slide of Kastav’s Grad forest, the morning brings a different type of dawn: the jokes and screams of almost twenty teens, mixed with the sound of the notifications of their mobiles and their cameras taking selfies at every new place discovered.

You might think we are joining these kids in a journey to explore a natural environment and show them the value of nature. And while you are not completely wrong, you couldn’t be more mistaken at the same time: these young people are here to map illegal dumpsites.

The Beginning: Why Would You Bring Kids To Map A Forest?

Let’s take it from the beginning: we are Zmergo Udruga, a Croatian NGO specialized in the environment. During this year, we will be the Croatian coordinators for World Cleanup Day, 15th September 2018. But before then we wanted to arrange a “test-session” for the World Cleanup App, based on mapping illegal dumpsites all around the world.

However, the most important part about cleaning up the world is not the cleaning itself, but teaching how to be eco-friendly and environmentally responsible to the greatest amount of people. So we thought that maybe it could be a great idea to teach the future adults of Croatia how to get involved with their country’s surroundings. That is why we contacted the Milan Brozović Primary School, at the city of Kastav, and that is why we found ourselves travelling with almost twenty teenagers at 8:30 AM. To teach them and to learn from them.

Before entering the forest, we give the children some explanations and rules to not get lost from the group. The main purpose of this excursion is learning how to use World Cleanup App. The functioning of the application it’s really simple: you open the app, activate your location, and take a picture of the dumpsite you would to clean.

After that, you will need to select the type of trash that composes the dumpsite, and to choose the amount of people and needs that it will take to clean it at 15th September 2018. “Take into account” explain Helena, leader of Zmergo and Team Leader of Let’s Do It in Croatia, “that you can clean the little amounts of trash we will find by yourselves, but the main aim is to map the big waste places”, she says.

The Big Question: It Is That Hard To Organise an Event Like This?

While we wander around the first areas of the forest, I ask Tamara, an administrative worker of Zmergo and one of the managers for this event, how difficult it was to get the kids involved. “It wasn’t difficult at all. I just contacted with the school and proposed the activity. Fortunately, I know some teachers there and they know me, so it was quite easy”, she explains.

But of course, we are talking about teens. You need some permissions, the parent’s signature… “Yes, but if the professors are willing to participate everything goes smoothly. Personally, this is one of the best methods I know: involving your local community, making them feel important and aware about their environments. You can do big things in a really small place”, says with a smile.

A car with two reporters from the National Croatian Television arrives to interview our members and some of the youngsters. So far, we have managed to fill 8 x one-meter tall bags of waste, and to map more than twelve dumpsite points that will require trucks to be cleaned up. It only took us a week to arrange the meeting, and maybe twenty minutes of loading bags and gloves in the back of a lorry to come here. And last, but not least: this is just a pilot with local people. Imagine the things that you can achieve if you widen your actions.

We reach the first climbs on the mountain slide, accompanying the teens by their side and guiding them in their look for illegal dumpsites. They seem pretty happy and active, probably because they are able to use their mobiles as a way of having fun at the same time they are doing something for improving their surroundings and the health of their local community.

Cleaning More Than a Forest

While we walk over the hills and discover old farm building, abandoned houses of people we will never meet, and leftovers of every human being that has been here, I recall that last year, in July 2017, Croatia suffered a lot of fires during last summer. The majority affected great natural areas, especially the forests around the Adriatic coastline. Slavko Tucakovic, chief commander of Croatia’s national firefighters, said back there that the fires were due to a long drought and strong winds, but also to the “irresponsibility of people who, intentionally or not, caused a number of fires”. But probably, the wastes around the forest heavily influenced the fires, or at least fed them.

Cleaning the world isn’t just a matter of how much trash we can collect. It’s also a matter of cleaning how we see the world as a gigantic junkyard, to clean the feeling that there won’t be consequences if we drop a plastic bottle or a cigarette butt in the middle of a forest. It’s also a matter of teaching this to younger generations. And that’s why I look  at these boys and girls, and feel that maybe we have cleaned something much greater than a forest. Maybe we have started to clean our own consciousness about environmental issues.