Activists take part in mass cleanup day

Updated September 22, 2019


MANILA: Volunteers collect trash as they participate in World Cleanup Day on Saturday. — AFP
MANILA: Volunteers collect trash as they participate in World Cleanup Day on Saturday. — AFP

PARIS: Thousands of volunteers wielding nets and bin bags scoured coasts, parks and riverbanks across the globe on Saturday, in a litter-picking drive highlighting the vast quantity of trash dumped worldwide, a day after mass international climate protests.

Campaigners took part in World Cleanup Day from Manila to the Mediterranean, as hundreds of thousands of people across the world take part in demonstrations and activities calling for urgent action on the environment.

Young people have been at the forefront of the movement, with masses of children skipping school on Friday for a global climate strike, which teen activist Greta Thunberg said was “only the beginning”. Some four million people filled city streets around the world on Friday, organisers said, in what was billed as the biggest ever protest against the threat posed to the planet by rising temperatures. The World Cleanup Day — an initiative that has got millions into the streets and cleaning up litter across the globe since it began just over a decade ago — falls at the beginning of a week of climate action called for by Thunberg, who will attend a UN youth summit on Saturday.

In France, volunteers posted images of their trash hauls on social media — heaps on assorted waste, soft drink cans and plastic containers — while workers from the ecology ministry picked up 12,528 cigarette butts in the La Defense area of Paris.

While the types of trash collected across the world varied, the common material in the bin bags across the world was plastic, amid surging concerns over the environmental costs of single use items and microplastics in oceans, rivers and drinking supplies. Plastic pollution is a major problem across Southeast Asia, but particularly in the Philippines, which — along with China, Vietnam and Indonesia — is frequently listed among the world’s worst offenders.

In the Philippine capital, some 10,000 people swept across a long stretch of beach on heavily polluted Manila Bay, clutching sacks they filled with rubbish. “It’s for us to help the environment, especially here in Manila, there’s a lot of garbage,” Mae Angela Areglado, a 20-year-old student said as she pitched in with the cleanup — held right next to the city’s huge Baseco slum. “[Plastic is] affecting the marine life because they think that it is food,” she added.

The mass cleanup is coordinated by the Estonian Let’s Do It Foundation, which says that 18 million people from 157 countries participated in the global cleanup day in September 2018. This year, it says over 160 countries are taking part. “Garbage is a global problem and it affects all the people in the world. It knows no state borders. We might think that we don’t see that much of it on a daily basis but actually this problem is growing in the world every day,” said the organisation’s president Heidi Solba in a statement on its website.

The group said about 30,000 people are participating in Estonia on Saturday in a drive focusing on small litter like bottle tops and cigarette butts. Mart Normet, leader of the initiative in Estonia, said he drew hope from the enthusiasm of young people. “When I look at the new photos on Facebook, I can see that the new generation is bringing a completely new attitude. Littering and damaging consumption are a thing of the past,” he said.

In Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, around 1,400 volunteers went searching for litter under the scorching sun. “Although our actions are very small — like cleaning trash from the sidewalk — it could spread a meaningful message,” said 18-year-old Hoang Thi Hoan, as motorists zipped by on a busy street.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2019