“Less blah blah blah and more action”

Written by
Silver Tambur - Silver Tambur is the cofounder and Editor-in-Chief of Estonian World.
January 28, 2021

Despite the challenging times, the last World Cleanup Day – a movement that has its roots in Estonia – was a success around the globe; we asked six local leaders of the Let’s Do It World! – Holger Holland from Germany, Agustina Iskandar from Indonesia, Virginie Guerin from France, Nima Zare from Iran, Alejandra Isabel Rivera Santos from El Salvador and Ana Le Rocha from Tanzania – what are the lessons for the future, how the leaders keep their personal motivation high and what can we all do to keep the world clean.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 clean-up day was the most successful so far in Germany, with 1,300 clean-ups in total across the country. The participation more than doubled – from 36,000 people in 2019 to over 83,000 last year.

Let’s Do It Germany led a strong campaign in individual and small group cleanups for World Cleanup Day 2020

“We focused on the individual clean-ups and had really strong support in the main cities, including in Munich, Hamburg, Frankfurt and Berlin. We also had good support from the radio stations and media companies that helped activate families,” Holger Holland, who has led the local organisation for three years, said.

Based on the good experience in 2020, a focus on the individual clean-ups will be one of the main strategies in Germany also this year – although there was also a positive involvement with large groups, with up to 200 people on average. “It wasn’t easy to organise large groups because of the local laws during the pandemic. However, in Frankfurt we had more than 2,000 people participating in a large clean-up,” Holland remarked.

Another plan in Germany for 2021 is to establish strong partnerships with the local municipalities and local governments, as it helps to engage even more people. “In 2020, the clean-up took place in every county in Germany. Since 2018, the ever-increasing number of local governments have joined, reaching to 448 municipalities in 2020 – a double-figure from a year before,” Holland noted. He himself participated in Munich, where the campaign had also strong support from the local mayor.

Make plans early and have a plan B

Indonesian people cleaning up on World Cleanup Day 2020

Indonesia had 4.2 million volunteers cleaning communities, an amazing achievement considering restricted movement.

Holland has set an ambitious target to activate at least five per cent of the German society in the future clean-up campaigns – approximately four million people. He believes this is a minimum requirement to make a long-lasting change. “It’s good to have a one clean-up day every year, but it’s important to draw attention to the issues all year long,” he said, adding that he was really happy with the local progress so far.

The German team is also collaborating with their fellows in Indonesia – the country that has for years stood out for the largest number of World Cleanup Day participants.

Agustina Iskandar, the local leader, said Indonesia had fewer participants in 2020 than a year before, due to the pandemic concerns. However, a whopping 4.2 million Indonesians still got engaged in clean-up activities. “Because of the coronavirus, we were late [in June] by deciding the campaign concept and it was then very late to organise everything. So this is one of the lessons: decide the concept early in the year,” Iskandar asserted.

Another lesson Iskandar highlighted concerns the logistics. “We didn’t have a plan B for logistics. We would recommend mapping the resources in advance – don’t rely on a certain company; everything can change, so it’s important to have a plan B!”

On a positive note – Indonesians didn’t just have a single clean-up day in 2020, they had the campaign over seven days.

Special banks to encourage recycling

Let’s Do It Indonesia is also trying to educate locals on how to segregate different waste. “Over 60 million tons of waste is produced in Indonesia every year – and about 65% of the waste is mismanaged because people simply don’t know how to segregate this waste properly. We aim to educate people to segregate it properly at home and take it to waste banks,” Iskandar explained.

Indonesia’s waste bank system encourages people to collect and segregate waste in return for the money. Savers – called customers – have a savings book and can borrow money from a waste bank that will later be returned with solid waste worth the money borrowed. Waste deposited by the customer will be weighed and valued with a sum of money; the waste will later be sold at factories or recycling agents or it can also be handed over to local upcycling agents for processing.

In Iran, the campaign’s main focus in 2020 was on the cigarette butt waste as this is a big issue in the country. “The campaign was a success in Iran, as we didn’t expect as many participants due to the pandemic,” Nima Zare, who joined the Let’s Do It! campaign in 2012, said.

There was also some media support in Iran as one of the most important Iranian TV channels made a report during the clean-up day in Tehran. And even some of the local politicians joined the campaign, Zare noted.

Connect with people and educate

El Salvador decided to teach waste segregation and recycling principles instead of organizing large cleanups in 2020

In El Salvador, the focus was on household waste – partly due to the COVID 19-imposed security measures to prevent groups of people coming together and spread the virus. “We invited families to classify waste in their homes a month in advance of the clean-up day on 19 September 2020 – and organised collection centres across the country,” Alejandra Isabel Rivera Santos explained.

Santos said the emphasis was also on educating people on recycling, hence avoiding extra trash and reducing waste. A local communication company, Movistar El Salvador, also joined the campaign, promoting cell phone recycling and digital device cleaning.

Just like in Germany, the clean-up movement grew in a neighbouring France in 2020. Virginie Guerin, the local leader, said that, when the pandemic started, they were worried on how they would gather in groups – despite, they managed to organise the same number of clean-ups than in 2019.

Guerin said that, in France, young people were the focus of the campaign – and to reach them, they used a lot of digital means. She emphasised it was important to be open to all the opportunities and see what was happening all around us, to reach and engage people. “We can have a vision and ambitions for the future, but the most important thing is to be in present and look around us to connect with people,” Guerin stressed.

She also highlighted the crucial role of the local teams in ensuring success and bringing everyone on the same page. “The key is to let people be free and let them take initiative – but at the same time ensuring a similar flow and making sure everyone is on the same page. People who lead the local clean-ups must feel free and happy to connect with others,” Guerin said.

In Tanzania, the emphasis was on the community mobilisation and attracting attention to the waste situation in general. “The waste and brand audits are also extremely important – to place responsibility on producers and push for better management of packaging, as well as gather data on waste,” Ana Le Rocha, the local leader, said.

Follow your heart

As with any civic movement, keeping up motivation can sometimes be a challenge – hence good advice and an encouraging word always comes a handy.

Agustina Iskandar said she had the wonderful team leaders that keep the dream alive – seeing on how they are working and making her country a better place is already inspiring. “I believe everyone in this world should not only think about themselves but also about the other people and the planet. I joined the movement because I have these values and it keeps me motivated,” she noted.

Nima Zare became involved with the clean-up campaigns when he realised we didn’t use our resources on this planet wisely. Zare, who always loved nature, camping and hiking, said his motivation comes from his heart. “Every time I go hiking or camping, I feel how strongly I am attached to nature. I am simply doing what I believe is right and just listen to my inner voice and follow my heart,” he said.

Like Zare’s, Holger Holland’s motivation came from being in nature. “I really started to notice the pollution and waste in 2016, while biking around in the forests. Plastic bottles, cigarette butts – and the problem was growing,” he observed.

Diversity as an inspiration

Data is the core of illustrating local and global waste issues. In Tanzania 2020 saw a strong effort in compiling brand audits.

 Holland heard about the World Cleanup Day and it inspired him – seeing it had spread across the world. After realising Germany lacked a proper local organisation, he took the initiative. “We must change our systematic way of consumption and production – all that must start by ourselves. If we manage this, we are a real success story. Let’s Do It World! itself – as a citizen movement – is an inspiration and motivation,” he noted.

Virginie Guerin, who has been involved since 2016, finds motivation in the diversity of the clean-up movement. “Everybody, regardless of their background – local mayors, ministers, workers; rich or poor; whatever region, whatever country – can contribute to a wellness and common good in this movement,” she remarked.

“I feel I have a mission, with clear objectives. I can also transform the knowledge to someone else – to allow them to take an initiative and organise the clean-ups. And meeting new people each time is also motivating – people inspire,” Guerin added.

Ana Le Rocha said she was an environmentalist by birth – passionate for nature and the ocean. “It is impossible not to take action when I see the situation worsening and at the same time, the opportunities to make it better,” she said.

Consumer behaviour can have a profound effect

Iran’s most successful campaign was cigarette butts. Collecting cigarette butts along Teheran’s main road captured the attention of the local government.

The local leaders also offered some advice on what we can all do to keep the world a cleaner place.

Nima Zare, who has a master’s degree in business management, with a special focus on marketing and consumer behaviour, has carried out a lot of research in the latter and says the biggest action we can take is not that difficult. “The only thing we need to do is to make a little change to the way we are living now. Some minor changes in our consuming behaviour can have a profound effect on the environment,” he explained.

“As consumers, we should be socially responsible citizens and have a consistent approach towards our environmental concerns,” Zare asserted. “For example, when you’re going to buy goods, you should refrain from buying products from those brands that cause harm to the environment and support others that aren’t. It is the easiest thing we can do to protect our future.”

He pointed out there were many ways to go green everywhere – at home, at school, in an office – to reduce waste and recycle. “For example, reduce single-use plastic. Think twice before you buy goods – there are so many cheap things on the market that may attract you, but you may not actually need them.”

Zare added that manufacturers can do more as well – use more recycled materials and make the packaging more environmentally friendly, for example. “It will actually benefit them in the long term, as the world is changing and the consumers will be kinder to the companies that care about the environment,” he noted.

Stop using unnecessary packaging

Virginie Guerin and Ana Le Rocha also emphasise the role of the consumers and manufacturers. “People should keep an eye on how something is made and what materials are used – to make sure the goods or materials they consume will not get wasted,” Guerin said.

“Change production and consumption patterns. Stop using unnecessary packaging and only purchase products that are not harmful to the environment,” Le Rocha added.

Agustina Iskandar places a lot of importance on the waste management system. “In Indonesia, there’s always something missing in the middle – the whole waste management system needs to be better. The key is how to integrate the system and encourage collaboration between the people and between the people and the local authorities,” she explained.

Activating five per cent of the world’s population

Besides digital cleanups, France also organized individual and small group cleanups.

What’s for certain is that everyone is optimistically on the same page on one thing – we’re in this together.

“We have to activate five per cent of the world’s population to participate in the clean-up campaigns. We have to show the rest of the society that we want to change – and five per cent can start changing the world,” Holger Holland stated. “The rest of the society – including the big business and industry – will take notice. We can then change the production processes by working together.”

Holland’s words were echoed by Zare’s. “As we all know, waste is the borderless issue – so we need to come together all around the world to tackle the issues,” Zare said. “We are living in an era in which the technological advances have provided us with tremendous possibilities to eliminate or even end the environmental issues – but to be successful in this fight and to keep moving forward, we must do it all together. Stand up and let’s do it together!”

Alejandra Isabel Rivera Santos noted that everyone needed to pay attention to what was happening around us. “Only working together, we can save us,” she said. “Do good things for this planet – we will not be disappointed when we do good things for all of us,” Agustina Iskandar added.

Virginie Guerin concluded with the moto her team uses in France:

“Less blah blah blah and more action!”

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 clean-up day was the most successful so far in Germany, with 1,300 clean-ups in total across the country. The participation more than doubled – from 36,000 people in 2019 to over 83,000 last year.
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