What is World Cleanup Day?

In anticipation of World Cleanup Day on September 17th, 2022, undergraduate honors student Molly Davis explains what this international effort is all about and how to get involved.

Worldwide, approximately 2.01 billion tons of municipal solid waste is produced a year. By 2050, this is expected to increase to a whopping 3.4 billion tons annually. The state of our environment and its future can feel pretty bleak; with the world population growing every year, how do we prevent all of this waste from continuing to end up in our landfills, oceans, and natural spaces? One solution is to mobilize our ever-growing world population in the fight against pollution; this is the vision behind World Cleanup Day.

World Cleanup Day (WCD) is the largest international effort to combat litter and pollution through collective action, where people across the globe work together to help tackle the world waste crisis. The first WCD began in 2008 in the European country of Estonia, where 50,000 people came together to clean their entire country in just five short hours! Since then, this “bottom-up” civic approach has caught on in more than 190 countries.

This ‘one country, one day’ formula has inspired environmentalists to take on the challenge in their own local communities, however, WCD is not just about a ‘one and done’ action- “it’s a strong and unique movement that shares the dream of a waste-free world.” Before the COVID-19 pandemic affected global participation, over 21 million people engaged in WCD in 2019. In the past four years, a total of 56.6 million people have been a part of this movement for change. While this number is only equivalent to 0.39% of the world population, the collective action seen globally continues to inspire more communities year by year. WCD strives to raise awareness about the global mismanagement of waste by engaging all spheres of society- individuals, governments, corporations and organizations- to participate in cleanup actions and help find solutions to tackle the waste crisis.

On the subject of global waste mismanagement, this has become an increasingly difficult issue for our society to address. While we can clean our beaches and natural spaces, this trash still pollutes our environment by contributing to our landfills. In fact, the highest point of elevation in Corpus Christi, Texas is a landfill. The normalization of mass overconsumption in our society has left many solid waste (SW) management systems struggling to keep up. Landfills leave trash susceptible to being blown away, eaten by wildlife, and polluting the local environment. Many allow ‘open burning,’ where trash such as tires, electronics, hazardous waste, and larger items are burned to create space in landfills that have reached capacity. This practice of burning solid waste puts local communities at risk of surface and groundwater contamination, air contamination and odors, visual impacts, and vectors of disease according to the Environmental Research and Public Health Journal. Landfills and open burning spaces often occupy lower socio-economic communities or less developed countries, contributing to environmental health disparities in marginalized communities across the globe. While beach cleanup efforts help us remove waste from the environment, it doesn’t make it disappear. This is a crucial and complex issue that demands more attention; proper waste management requires us to shift our values, to consume less and care for our environment and the people in it. You can read more about solid waste mismanagement here.  

While a single day of individual effort may not feel like enough, there is no limit to the things we can do when we unite.

This year, World Cleanup Day falls on Saturday, September 17th. In celebration, the Texas General Land Office (TGLO) will be hosting a coast-wide beach cleanup event! You can register to help clean up at a number of locations along the Texas coast on their Eventbrite page. Please be sure to complete this registration for you and your group that attends these cleanups; this way, the organizers can ensure that enough supplies such as trash bags, litter grabbers and gloves will be provided for public use. For TAMUCC students, you can find the Islander Green Team (IGT) and the Honors Program working together at the North Padre Island/Padre Balli Park location from 9 AM to 12 PM CST. The IGT plans to help lead a waste audit here to prevent all of the waste from ending up in landfills, so the more help the better! If you can join, carpool with a friend if possible and be sure to bring water, sunscreen, and close-toed shoes for your safety. For BlueValue readers who don’t live along the Texas coast, you can still participate in WCD by finding public events happening near you on the WCD US Map! Join in with environmental heroes worldwide as we fight for a cleaner, healthier earth together, one day at a time.

The TAMUCC Islander Green Team in action on World Cleanup Day 2021. Photo by Julia Nicholson.

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