World Cleanup Day 2023 – celebrating successes!

Written by
Becca Melhuish and Jim Sharman
November 14, 2023

It’s time to celebrate – the numbers are in! And, what’s more, they’re saying loudly and clearly that World Cleanup Day 2023 was a monumental success, and many records were broken.

With 19.1 million volunteers participating from a new high of 195 countries and territories (and a total 91% of UN member states), this year’s results mark a return to pre-Covid engagement levels, with the second-best-ever volunteer turnout, and 36 nations setting new participation records for a single campaign. What a feat!

[Schoolchildren in Mozambique preparing for cleanup]

Diving into the data, we see positive trends that show our message about the need for lasting societal change is being embraced by both the general population and, crucially, policy makers. Together, we’re making a huge impact as catalysts for a clean, healthy, and waste-free world.

Let’s take a look at these trends and celebrate some of WCD 2023’s biggest success stories.

Youth power

The single most significant standout trend from WCD 2023 is the remarkable surge in youth engagement. In Mozambique, a partnership with the Ministry of Education empowered over 1,200 schools to incorporate waste and pollution awareness into their curriculum. The result? Approximately two million children boosted participant numbers to a new national record, and a 2023 global participation record, of a jaw-dropping 3.25 million volunteers – that’s an astounding 10% of Mozambique's population, another 2023 global record! 

In Namibia, where twice as many volunteers as expected turned out – a whopping 80% of them were children – and France reported that a third of their 150,000 volunteers were children. The youngsters of Vanuatu got involved too, as the islands’ Olympic Committee organized cleanups, with children showing unmatched enthusiasm to participate. Sri Lanka also prioritized engaging thousands of schools, successfully spreading awareness among the younger generation. It’s a pattern we’re seeing the world over, especially this year.

Governments stepping up 

Another noteworthy trend has been the increased participation of governments in WCD activities in many countries. It's clear that government officials – from local authorities, to United Nations representatives, to national presidents – are taking a more active interest in our mission, and getting a deeper understanding of the messages we’re putting out. As a result, we're making strides not just at the grassroots level, but also within the corridors of power. What’s clear is that policy-makers need to be involved, as many of our country leaders call more upon governments to introduce binding legislation to help tackle the increasing mismanaged waste crisis we all face.

Increased private sector visibility 

It’s not just youth and governments who are taking greater notice – there’s been a definite surge in corporate visibility and engagement this year. Social media platforms, especially LinkedIn, were buzzing with posts celebrating cleanup actions organized by companies and groups. This corporate involvement completes a vital trilogy of participation and highlights the growing awareness and commitment to addressing the global mismanaged waste crisis from all sectors of society.

Which is, of course, what Let’s Do It World is all about – cooperation, positivity, people.

2023’s Top Tens 

We celebrate the successes of each and every country that takes part in WCD, with all engagement, big or small, being part of the transition to a cleaner future. However, like every year, we happily acknowledge and highlight the efforts of some stand-out successes, who’ve topped the leaderboards for 2023!

At the forefront were Mozambique, who brought out an awe-inspiring 3.25 million dedicated volunteers, making up an unprecedented 10% of the country’s population! They were followed by incredible mobilizations in Indonesia, India, USA, Mexico – with 2.61, 2.46, 2.35, and 1.98 M respectively, with a further five countries making the Top 10 list. Their inspiring results have showcased the immense power of individuals coming together for a common cause, pooling their energy to do something incredible.

Records tumbled this year, with a total of 36 nations improving on their own national participation levels. Mozambique topped the leaderboard for the biggest new record, increasing their previous by over 60%. Cambodia and Brazil managed to almost double their past personal bests, with almost 1.6 M and 600,000 respectively! Germany also smashed their record, with almost 50% more than ever, now topping out at 438,000. Estonia also reached a new high, with 56,000 people joining in this year, beating their turnout in the very first cleanup day all the way back in 2008. Finally, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Barbados went from relatively small previous bests, of 440 and 20 respectively, to over 16 times greater with 7,229 in the DRC, and over 60 times greater with 1,250 in Barbados. Congratulations to all those who beat their personal bests! Here is the complete Top 10.

But what about that all-important statistic – a country’s population mobilized? Given we’re pursuing 5% of the global population, it’s always great to see how we’re doing on the individual country level. Topping our third chart for this year is – you guessed it – Mozambique, completing an unprecedented treble with 9.6%, closely followed by Cambodia’s 9.3%. Latvia, brought out a highly impressive 7.7%. Huge congratulations to these three countries, who are well on the way to generating lasting societal behavioral change and shifting attitudes towards waste management overall, and waste generation in particular. 

Six more nations make up the Top 10, but we couldn’t let this paragraph end without an honorable mention of Estonia, the movement’s birth nation! This year, the Estonian team produced a new national record of 4.2% population, making it the world #5 for this year.

Succeeding against the odds 

Huge respect is deservedly extended to the countries who managed to carry out cleanups despite being in the middle of war, conflict, or other challenges. In Ukraine, under the slogan, “Let the sky be peaceful, and Ukraine be clean!", over 282,000 people – their second highest total yet – still turned out to clean up waste pollution in 24 regions. Brave volunteers in Congo, Haiti, Iran, Lebanon, Somalia, Syria and Yemen also came out to clean, in the face of potentially lethal risks from social upheaval in their countries. We salute you all.   

Welcome, new cleanuppers! 

As our movement continues to grow in its size, energy and impact, WCD 2023 marked the inclusion of 6 nations from the UN list participating for the first time. Among the newcomers were the Pacific countries of Samoa, Tuvalu, Palau, and Kiribati, who have all been vocal at the UN level about the devastating impact of climate change on their coastal regions.

They're taking action to tackle the huge amounts of waste flushed into the ocean from mainland nations' rivers which are then washed up on their beaches. Their involvement sees a new horizon crossed in both global reach and the relevance of our movement.

Our growing global impact 

Since we started our journey with World Cleanup Day in 2018, we're making ever-greater progress. During the six World Cleanup Days between 2018 and 2023, we've cleaned up in 211 countries and territories, which include a whopping 95% of UN member states. Consequently, we’ve engaged a new high total of just under 91 million participants – which takes our overall level beyond 1.1% of the global population.

And we’re not stopping there! Looking ahead to next year, we're already set to increase this number. The Marshall Islands have responded enthusiastically to our invitation to join next year, promising to bring the Solomon Islands along with them. Turkmenistan is also signaling its interest. When they join in, that would leave only six countries to complete the full UN member states list – Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Nauru, North Korea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino. So, if you have any friends or family in any of those places, let’s talk!

Onwards and upwards 

Heidi Solba, LDIW President & Head of Global Network, has never been more proud of the network of incredible leaders and teams around the world, who are relentlessly bringing positive impact to the world, no matter what their local physical, political or social environment throws at them.

In celebration of our declared WCD 2023’s results, Heidi has a personal message to us all:

“The foundation of any positive global transformation is one of straightforward and mutual understanding and collaboration. As our global network continues to demonstrate this principle, regardless of borders or political disputes, I see us remaining committed to our values and aims, and I deeply appreciate the continued and increasing dedication from our global network. Observing the significant engagement of network teams, partners, and volunteers is a source of humility, gratitude, and enthusiasm for me. We understand that the real impact is derived from persistence, expansion, and cooperative efforts, and I extend my heartfelt appreciation to everyone in this organization for upholding these values, both now and in the times ahead!”

Together, let’s make 2024 even more remarkable, with, who knows, some exciting and significant new collaborations…!

World Cleanup Day 2023 brought many successes and reasons for celebration in many nations. Read about incredible youth engagement and much more!
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