This year’s World Cleanup Day – an Estonian-born initiative that has spread around the world – brought together 20 million people in 179 countries and territories to clean up their beaches, streets, forests and parks in a global effort to clean up waste from public spaces and nature.
The World Cleanup Day was born in Estonia in 2008, led by the Let’s Do It! organisation that successfully mobilised more than 50,000 volunteers for a single-day, country-wide cleanup effort that resulted in the elimination of 10,000 tons of illegal waste. The Estonian action, called Let’s Do It 2008, emerged as a global model, spreading globally thereafter.
World Cleanup Day 2019 started in the Pacific island of Fiji and ended 24 hours later in Hawaii. Cleanups were organised in countries and territories on all continents, including the Arctic, where a group of cruise operators along with passengers put aside their binoculars, rolled up their sleeves and collected litter from the Arctic beaches to combat marine plastic pollution.
According to the organisers, the usual suspect, plastic, was the main type of waste found on beaches across the world from Tonga to Bangladesh to Martinique. In Hawaii, the American singer-songwriter Jack Johnson led a cleanup that highlighted the amount of microplastic on the Hawaiian beaches.
900,000 cigarette butts collected in Estonia
In Sri Lanka, 250 kilograms of plastic and 15 kilograms of flip-flops were collected on just one beach. Several toilets, fridges and other household appliances were pulled from water in Cyprus, Curaçao and Maldives, where underwater cleanups took place, the Let’s Do It! World movement said.
Plastic waste made up most of the waste collected in Europe, too, but, this year, millions of cigarette butts found their way into trash bags and several countries chose to highlight the prevalence of cigarette butts on our streets and nature.
In Estonia, 900,000 cigarette butts were collected, mostly by students and kindergarten children. In France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands, cigarette butts featured heavily as well. Along with picking them up, the local teams educated the public through media on the harms of cigarette butts, that are often believed to be biodegradable.
Plogging – picking up trash while jogging – was another popular theme this year. Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden joined a plogging group in Sweden and running groups across the UK, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands amongst others chose this sporty way of picking up trash.
Cleaning the Hudson River in New York
Despite a difficult security situation on the lead up to presidential elections in Afghanistan, a group of climate enthusiasts still organised a cleanup in Kabul. But they went further than just that – they built a tower of all plastic collected and paraded it through the city to raise awareness of plastic pollution in the country.
Cleanups also swept across the African continent and massive post-cleanup street parties complete with music and dancing echoed from DRC to Mozambique to Cameroon and Nigeria.
While Africa and Europe were celebrating their successes, the Americas were about to start. Estimated two million people turned out to clean in all 50 US states and five overseas territories. Among other natural landmarks, the Hudson River in New York was cleared of some of the waste it holds.
One of the largest civic movements in the world
The Caribbean and Latin America saw people turn up to clean beaches, streets, forests and mountains. In Brazil, cleanups took place in 1200 cities across the vast country while Argentina and Panama attracted sizeable crowds following successful national PR campaigns.
The massive one-day clean-up action, organised by the global NGO, Let’s Do It! World, is one of the largest worldwide civic movements. The aim of this global concerted effort is to raise awareness of mismanaged waste damaging our planet and to give every individual, company and organisation a chance to get involved in creating a better, healthier and safer environment.
The inaugural World Cleanup Day was 15 September 2018. The next World Cleanup Day will take place on 19 September 2020.
Cover: World Cleanup Day 2019 in Nepal. Images courtesy of Let’s Do It World, except where stated.