Did you know that there’s an estimated 100 million of illegal garbage in the world? Waste is everywhere, in cities, forests, oceans and on beaches. This can be a discouraging reality. But a few determined volunteers have sparked a revolution. A civic movement no less. One that wants to rid the world of its garbage and at the same time educate the population on the importance of keeping the environment free of waste.
The movement started in Estonia. Over half of the country’s territory is covered by forests, but the forests had become a dumping ground for household and construction waste. A few people felt that this could not go on and the idea of the “Let’s Do It” campaign was born. The group asked themselves how they could clean up the whole country and then they devised the seemingly crazy plan to clean up 10,000 tons of waste in one day. That’s right, ONE DAY!
To do this, the campaign had to sign up 40,000 volunteers. This was an incredibly ambitious goal to say the least. The group started by rallying for support in the professional world and in a few weeks they had 620 volunteers. Then the group looked for partners. Local communities, NGOs, IT professionals, top opinion leaders, corporations, the media, politicians and even the President signed up to support the cause. In the end, the campaign had 500 official partners. Some helped with their staff, others with resources, others with technical support or transportation, and the media gave the campaign free advertising space.
Next, all the garbage had to be mapped. A combination of Google Earth and other programs were used to create a unique and easy to use garbage mapping software. The mapping exercise took seven months, and with the help of 720 volunteers, 10,656 illegal dumping sites were mapped. The last part was the hardest. The campaign had to raise sufficient awareness of the problem in order to get 40,000 people to volunteer to pick up all the garbage. An advertising campaign was launched with well-known musicians, actors and cultural leaders lending their voice to the campaign. The publicity campaign did not cost the organizers a single dime. “Let’s Do It” became the most talked about issue in the country.
In the end, on 3 May 2008, 50,000 people showed up, dug in and picked up 10,000 tons of waste. What would have taken the government three years and 22.5 million Euros took five hours and cost half a million Euros. The whole of Estonia became waste free. Talk about protecting the environment! Since the campaign was launched in 2008, littering and illegal dumping of waste has decreased 75 per cent in the country.
But the “Let’s Do it” campaign didn’t stop in Estonia. The movement has spread to over 94 countries using the same model. World Cleanup 2012 is now going on in several countries. Ukraine held its second cleanup campaign on 28 April. On 29 April, volunteers worked to rid Greece of its construction waste. Malta’s cleanup day was on 1 May. On 12 May of this year, campaigns to collect illegally disposed waste in one day were organized in Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria and as far away as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On 13 May, it was the United Kingdom’s turn. On 19 May, Algeria and El Salvador followed suit. On 21 May, a smaller scale cleanup was done by students in Thailand.
On 24 May, in Kosovo, UN Volunteers from various agencies including UNDP, UNFPA and UN Women volunteered along with 50,000 volunteers from across the country to clean up Kosovo. On the same day Mali also held its cleanup campaign. On 26 May, volunteers did the same in Mongolia. Volunteers in Sao Paulo, Brazil cleaned up the city’s waste on 27 and 29 May, so did Finland’s Lapland region. A total of 85 countries will organize a cleanup day between March 24 and September 25 2012, with campaigns happening all over the world.
The one day cleanup is not the end of the campaign in each country or region. The sites continue to be monitored so that the community remains waste free. The aim is to educate people about the importance of keeping our cities, beaches, oceans, forests, that is, our environment free of waste. This is how the campaign is sustainable. Some countries, like Kosovo, have chosen to make it an annual event. Others have made the campaigns regional with different states holding their own cleanup days. Not to be outdone, cities are also rallying support to hold smaller scale cleanups.
Getting rid of the 100 million tons of garbage will take the coordination of thousands of volunteers to both map and pick up garbage, and the support of government and private sector to get it done. It will definitely be challenging, but not impossible. So join the movement and help keep our environment free of waste. Together, we can do it!
To find out more about the Let’s Do It World campaign or to participate in a campaign in your country or region, go to: www.letsdoitworld.org