Our Burning Planet


World Cleanup Day: South Africans urged to come out on Saturday and contribute to a litter-free country

World Cleanup Day: South Africans urged to come out on Saturday and contribute to a litter-free country
Environment Minister Barbara Creecy helped to pick up rubbish in Nelmapius, Pretoria, where the Department of Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries cleared an illegal landfill and planted about 120 trees for World Environment Day on 5 June 2019. (Photo: Deaan Vivier)

Millions of people from more than 180 countries will mark World Cleanup Day this Saturday. It’s a global initiative and everyone, including South Africans, is invited to participate.

Looking for something worthwhile to do on Saturday? You could always join millions of people taking part in World Cleanup day activities and help combat the growing solid waste problem.

According to the World Cleanup Day website, last year’s campaign saw more than 11 million people from 166 countries gather at beaches, along rivers, on the streets and in forests to help clean up the world.

In 2018, at least 17,6 million people came out while 21.2 million did their bit in 2019.

The site says the idea for the global cleanup originated in Estonia in 2008, when 50,000 people came together to clean up the entire country in five hours. This led to the initiative spreading to other parts of the world.

Camilo Ramada, leader of World Cleanup Day in South Africa, says the initiative aims to draw attention to the crisis caused by solid waste. 

“It is estimated that there are 200 million tons of trash in the oceans, and that by 2040 this will increase to 600 million tons,” he says. 

Ramada, who is also director of The GEM (Going the Extra Mile) Project, says “by inviting people to come and clean the trash in cities, on beaches and rivers, we can all experience first-hand the enormous impact of waste and trash on our environment”.

While the organisers are aware that cleaning beaches, rivers and cities for a day might not have a huge impact on the amount of waste in the environment, they believe that by calling attention to the problem, the cleanup activities contribute to a change in attitude among people, companies and governments. 

Ramada says anyone and everyone can get involved in the initiative. 

“Everyone can organise a cleanup or join a cleanup! You can pick up litter in your street, in your neighbourhood, in your city. Or you can look for a park, river or beach where you can clean up,” he says. 

People who are interested in registering their cleanup or joining an existing one can visit the World Cleanup Day website. 

He says it is important that those who take part in the cleanup keep a record of the amount of waste they collect in order to make an estimate of the total global impact of the day. 

Ramada says while World Cleanup Day has been happening in South Africa since 2018, his organisation, GEM, started taking part in 2020. 

While they are only in their second year of the cleanup, there are many other organisations that have been initiating cleanups for at least 25 years. 

He says on average there are about 300 organisations that are known to them; each with at least 30 participants per cleanup. Each group chooses which area to clean. Ramada says most of the time the groups have a connection with the area they decide to clean.  

Pristine Earth Collective director, George van der Schyff says taking part in the World Cleanup Day initiative gives their Gugulethu Youth Environmental Champions in the Western Cape an exciting experience in Hout Bay while doing a cleanup alongside other organisations. He says this further “broadens their sense of stewardship and community outside Gugulethu”.

The group mostly does cleanups in Gugulethu where they often come across bottles, nappies, wrappers, organic waste, packets and building rubble. This weekend they are hoping to see 25 to 30 young people coming out to clean up in Hout bay. 

Van der Schyff says anyone who might be interested in taking part in the cleanup should go to the nearest beach, river or park with their friends or families. 

“It is a surprisingly fun and fulfilling morning out where you meet great people from all walks of life along the way. You will also come to appreciate the value of intercepting and sorting waste at home,” he says.

The CityZen Foundation is an organisation helping communities keep clean while creating job opportunities in Johannesburg. Co-founder Naj Naidoo says the foundation will be taking part in their second World Cleanup Day.

They hope to raise awareness of what it is they do on a daily basis, and assist the community in interacting with their team. 

A resident helps clean up the Bayhead Natural Heritage Site in Durban on 2 February 2020 to mark World Wetlands Day. (Photo: Gallo Images/Darren Stewart)

He hopes this will help to show the community the value of keeping their suburbs clean. This year, CityZen is collaborating with Redhill School, Morningside Shopping Centre, Plastics SA and Rotary Morningside. Naidoo believes that at least 100 people will get involved – and if more volunteers arrive, they will be “overjoyed”.

The team often retrieves up to 15 tons of waste from the streets of Johannesburg each week. The most common items found are takeaway containers (cardboard and polystyrene), chip packets, beer bottles, soft drink cans and bottle tops. Naidoo says the worst are the single packaged sweets and cigarette butts which he says are extremely difficult to pick up.

He says organisations like theirs are trying hard to solve two problems at the same time, as they employ the homeless and destitute to pick up litter in exchange for a fair daily wage. He wishes the government could offer more assistance in efforts to reduce waste, but adds that waste reduction is everyone’s responsibility. 

“So as active citizens get involved in a way with which you are comfortable, come out and have a fun day working with us and feel good about seeing the change. Or support organisations like ours financially and encourage your friends to do so as well… help educate your friends and family about waste and walk the talk by starting in your own home by choosing not to buy goods in packaging or ensuring that you recycle what you do buy – this action is a lot more sustainable in the fight against waste in the long term.” DM/OBP

Have you made a change in your life that will mitigate against the climate crisis, have a positive impact on the environment and could possibly inspire others? Let us know about it on [email protected] using Our Burning Planet Solutions in the subject line.

Absa OBP

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