By Chris Onuoha, with agency report
Health, they say, is wealth. Health can translate into wealth especially when the ecosystem is free from destructive pollutions. Everybody needs a clean environment, which is the responsibility of all. The world, generally, has experienced enormous environmental degradation ranging from man-made factors to natural disasters, and this has in turn resulted in climate change. These pollutions, coupled with the problems humans have in waste management, prompted a group of people in Estonian community to start a cleanup campaign aimed at solving some of the problems mentioned above.
Estonia is a small country of about 1.3 million in population on the East coast of Europe. The Baltic country with its small population started this cleanup campaign in 2008 when a group of individuals came together to effect change on existing way of managing waste products. With its global reckoning and acceptance, the exercise in 2018 became officially recognised globally as World Cleanup Day, WCD.
WCD in Nigeria
Nigeria is not left out of this all-important exercise. Some organizations in the country such as Alon Green, a Pet recycling company, and others, joined their counterparts around the world to give mother earth a clean sweep. World Cleanup Day is an annual global social action program aimed at combating the global solid waste problem, including marine debris. It is currently coordinated by the global organization “Let’s Do It! World,” with their headquarters located in Tallinn, Estonia.
The exercise includes litter cleanup and waste mapping activities spanning every time zone and held on the 3rd Saturday of September annually. Environmental cleanup events are held in nearly every country, concluding it at the International Date Line in Hawaii and American Samoa. It aims to raise awareness on waste crisis by mobilizing all spheres of society to participate in cleanup actions. Individuals, governments, corporations and organizations are all encouraged to take part in cleanups and to find solutions to tackle wastes. There are numerous organizations that facilitate and host World Cleanup Day events globally. Like Earth Day, World Cleanup Day is non-partisan, apolitical, and is not affiliated to any national or global political party or discrete ideology.
Global cleanup efforts have existed in many forms throughout human history, especially after widespread catastrophes such as earthquakes, floods, and powerful tsunamis. In modern history, these efforts are typically undertaken by the affected communities, with support from various international organizations and NGOs, such as Red Cross, Oxfam, and other relief organizations, but typically in post-conflict zones. They have included efforts to remove land mines, beach cleanups, and other municipal and non-governmental actions.
The inaugural World Cleanup Day held on September 15, 2018 was built on the successes of previous global cleanup efforts. The goal of World Cleanup Day 2018 was to involve 5 percent of the world’s population (or approximately 380 million people). While the effort fell short of the goal, it directly mobilized 18 million people worldwide in its first exercise. With 17.6 million people across 157 countries, over 88500 tons of waste was registered and collected.
In 2019, World Cleanup Day held on September 19, coinciding with Peace Day and the Global climate strike of September 2019. With 21 million people across 180 countries, over 100,000 tons of waste was collected and registered. On September 19, 2020, 11 million people across 166 countries collected and registered over 43,000 tons of waste. In September 18, 2021, with 8.5 million people across 191 countries, over 33, 000 tons of waste was registered. The 2022 September 17 exercise is expected to be higher.
History of WCD
The World Cleanup Day traces its roots back to 2008, when 50,000 people came together in Estonia and cleaned up the entire country in five hours. The citizen movement, called “Let’s Do It!” then grew into global operation and engaged tens of millions of environmentally savvy volunteers around the world.
In 2018, the movement organized the first World Cleanup Day – with the aim to engage as many people across the globe as possible for the biggest waste collection day in human history. The first global cleanup day, in September 2018, united 18 million people while the second one, in 2019, involved 21 million people around 180 countries. The cleanup days in 2020 and 2021 were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and therefore had less participants, but it still engaged 11 million volunteers in 2020 and 8.5 million last year, according to reports.
Anneli & Ursual
Anneli Ohvril, the executive director of Let’s Do It World, the organizer of the global initiative, said after a couple of years of COVID restrictions, the movement is “all ready to return as a global community to connect and care for the planet in bigger numbers than ever.”
“Our mission is to activate 5 percent of the world’s population on this day – this is a scientifically proven number that would propel forward the worldwide shift towards conscious care and subsequently, circular economy,” Ohvril said in a statement.
According to Ohvril, World Cleanup Day is not just about cleaning our streets, forests and beaches of all the plastic and other trash that is polluting the planet in ever-increasing quantities but going beyond that and kick-starting the shift within us, our homes, communities, governments and businesses. “Waste-free’ could easily be the new normal if we direct our attention to it and design it into all our systems from the start,” she said.
Ursual Gertrud von der Leyen, the European Commission’s president and patron of World Cleanup Day said: “I am very proud to be the patron of World Cleanup Day. We need to change the way we treat our planet, be more mindful of its resources and preserve its biodiversity. Everyone and anyone can contribute to this.”
‘Let’s do it’ in Nigeria
In Nigeria, improper waste disposal is also a huge problem affecting most of the metro cities. Government, on its own part, created waste management agencies to that effect, but battling the daily accumulation of waste becomes a challenge. Human attitude is also an impediment to an effective management of waste in the country. While some city dwellers complain that there are inadequate arrangements by the government for waste management and disposal within their communities, some also noted that the attitude of the scavengers contributes to indiscriminate littering of waste products around the streets, because they destroy the waste sacs in search of recyclable materials.
Oludolapo Omolokun is the Chief Executive Officer of AlonGreen Recycling Company based in Abule Egba, Lagos State. Her company is among the organizations in Lagos that assembled volunteers who participated in the observance of World Cleanup Day in Lagos. The organization in its second year of operation has shown much effort in contributing to the cleanup campaign and advocacy in Lagos.
In 2021, AlonGreen launched its cleanup campaign with over 20 volunteers that swept and cleaned up streets and market spaces in Ayobo, Iyana-Ipaja area of Lagos State. September 17, 2022 also saw a massive turnout of volunteers who have developed enthusiasm to participate in the cleanup exercise.
Omolokun said “the city of Lagos is very populous. People are moving in and out of the city, and effective management of waste is still a challenge. The biggest challenges are the awareness and consciousness of the people.” That we can sort our wastes in nylon bags, separating wastes that are not recyclable, Omolokun said, “is a key message we need to pass on to individuals and communities, so that they can begin these practices in their homes and thereby contribute to the effective management of waste in Lagos.
“We need to understand that we all have a responsibility because we all live in this coastal city called Lagos. Everybody needs to play a role. It is not just government responsibility alone. Each and everyone should be able to manage waste properly at homes and in public spaces. We can manage our wastes better collectively as a state or community. This is to prevent things like flood, disease outbreak and other natural disasters.
“This is our second time to do this. The activities and exercise happening today is to create the awareness and hoping that more people would be aware that there are economic opportunities in sorting their wastes and getting it deposited at designated depots. We are focused largely on PET plastic waste collection for recycling, and our mission is to divert the plastic waste from the land fill and also to implement some kind of compensations for that,” she added.
Many residents who witnessed the cleanup exercise commended the effort of Alon Green and other organizations that participated. Segun, a commercial tricycle operator along Abule-Egba, said waste management in Lagos has been a long-time issue. According to him, the culture of disposing wastes indiscriminately into the gutters and on the streets is an old habit, but with the advocacy and awareness drive, people will begin to change such habits. He reiterated the need for government to enact laws that will change the habit of wrong waste disposal, or better still, impose stringent measures that would deter them.
For Mrs. Olasheni, a fish seller at Abule-Egba market, complained that the fault is not only from the traders in the market. She said people are still conscious of the existing environmental sanitation practiced every Thursday morning in Lagos, but when the wastes are collected and packed at designated spots for LAWMA to pick, scavengers would tear the nylon sacs and scatter the debris in search of recyclable metals. After that, the littered wastes will find their ways back to the gutters. She said traders in Lagos are trying by complying with proper guidelines in waste management, but the activities of waste scavengers constitute a big challenge.
Proper waste management system was introduced by the Lagos State government with the establishment of Lagos Waste Management Agency, LAWMA. A waste basket was introduced to commuter buses in the city to curtail indiscriminate dropping of pet bottles and other wastes products on the street. This was also introduced in offices, schools and public places. Some were erected on the streets and recreational centers. But the initiative has not been quite successful due to peoples’ old habits.