The organizers of the World Cleanup Day can approach their 2023 edition on 16 September with renewed pride and confidence as the winners of this year´s UN SDG Action Award.
The acronym SDG stands for the Sustainable Development Goals commonly known as the Global Goals for Sustainable Development.
The United Nations SDG Action Award ceremony took place in Rome, Italy, on the margins of the UN Food Systems Summit this summer.
Launched in 2018, the World Cleanup Day has gathered momentum. EU institutions and the United Nations take part in the effort with the #EUBeachCleanup, a campaign which culminates on 16 September.
4% of population in Estonia
Mobilisation is indeed what the World Cleanup Day is about. It hardly has humble beginnings since it started with a bang. Its origins can be traced to a one-day clean-up effort in Estonia in 2008, which mobilized 50,000 people which is about 4% of the entire population.
“The idea was to see if we could clean up all of the country from different kinds of waste,” says Heidi Solba, President and Head of the Global Network at Let’s Do It World and World Cleanup Day.
“We had old leftovers from the Soviet army in the parks and in the forests. We had tires, sometimes even refrigerators, in the public space. Since Estonia is so small and has a population of 1.3 million, we decided we could do it in one day.”
Volunteers from 600 different organisations spent 6 months preparing the campaign, which took place on a sunny spring day, on 8 May 2008. The fantastic mobilisation of 4% of the population would amount to over 420,000 people taking part in Sweden, 2.7 million in France or over 3.3 million in Germany. The success owes a lot to a good marketing campaign with the participation of the country´s president and many stars from music and television.
“It has been calculated that if the government had organised it, it would have taken 3 years instead of 6 months, at a cost of 22.5 million euros in 2008,” Solba told UNRIC. “This shows the power of civic movements with a strong marketing campaign”.
Since then, it has evolved into a global movement. During the past five years, an astonishing 70 million people have rallied for the cause, mobilizing in a united front for the Global Goals. On September 17 2022 alone, 15 million volunteers were mobilised, dedicating 30 million hours to remove around 60,000 tons of waste from nature – in just one day. The purpose of the Cleanup Day is to raise awareness of the waste situation, to bring people out and to engage them.
“The main idea is to create change in society by simply bringing people out to the streets and parks, to show what cooperation can do,” Solba says. “In this way people can see how we can work together and you can actually see the results for miles when you have cleaned up all the parks and beaches. It actually has a big effect on values and behaviour for the future´s sake as well.”
Everything ends in the sea
The EU and the UN have focused on beach cleanup, but that includes urban and other areas too, since at the end of the day, as Heidi Solba points out, there is hardly a country that is not connected to the sea by rivers. “80% of the litter on the beaches comes from inland. We have to think about sustainable solutions so we don´t have to do so much cleaning up,” she says.
Indeed, World Cleanup Day is closely linked the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, since arguably they touch upon 7 out of the 17 Goals, according to Solba.
On the SDG Action Award, that she accepted on behalf of the World Cleanup Day, she says.
“It is very important and so is our work with the United Nations and different kind of organisations. This award acknowledges the huge work mainly done by the network and all the leaders around the world in 164 countries where we have dedicated leaders and teams.”