Small Action, Big Impact: Cleaning up Off- and Online!

Why a cleaning up in Switzerland? Isn’t it sparkling clean here? What is there to clean up? I wondered…

Because yes, the country is indeed amazingly clean and green! However, much money is spent on making it so: when looking closer you’ll see that it isn’t that spotless after all! 

Let’s Do It World is a non-profit organization hosting clean-up events throughout the world. Let’s Do It Switzerland, founded a year ago, is joining the annual World Cleanup Day event on Saturday the 19th of September. The country leader of World Cleanup Day Switzerland, Fabio Gieriet, has provided me with many new insights. S changes can have a big impact on the offline and -surprisingly enough- online environment, too. 

Let’s do it together

The Let’s Do It movement began in Estonia in 2008, when 50’000 people came together to clean up the entire country in just five hours. Today the movement has grown into a network of 180 countries engaging millions of people towards the same goal – a clean and waste-free world. 

FG- We strive to work together with a group of volunteers that actively want to help clean up the environment. This is always done on the third Saturday of September and lasts for approximately two hours, including a briefing and a little celebration at the end. We are working with a positive philosophy and want to keep this a fun and engaging experience. 

Last year we had 12 meeting points throughout the country, with 424 participants. This year we are growing to over 30 locations. Everyone is welcome: kids and adults, groups and people alone. 

World Cleanup Day Bern 2019 – Picture by Trash Hero Bern

Action and Awareness 

Last year the World Cleanup Day Switzerland participants gathered 2’400 kilos of trash in Switzerland alone. Various things were found on land and in the lake: from porn magazines, lube packages, and car batteries to shopping carts and e-scooters. Remarkable also, was the amount of cigarette butts: more than 38’000! One cigarette butt has up to 7’000 toxic chemicals in it according to WHO (2018), This can contaminate over 1’000 liters of water and it’s plastic will never be decomposed organically. 

FG- The collected trash is being disposed of while using the Swiss recycling system and everything is documented. Doing this, we also help out the Break Free from Plastic organization in building up data for their Brand Audit Report. And the impact is bigger than solely cleaning the trash itself, as World Cleanup Day actively shows the amount of trash we litter altogether.

World Cleanup Day Bern 2019 – Picture by Trash Hero Bern

Spotless Switzerland

I remember my Dutch aunt saying: “It’s like constantly walking on a film set here; everything is so perfect!”. And yes, I agree, the country appears to be super clean and green. However, the fact that our trash system is so good might have an unexpected counter effect; we as inhabitants don’t see how much garbage we actually produce and throw away. 

FG- For the authorities in Switzerland, the cost of cleaning litter amounts to more than 200 million CHF a year. Just look at the 2’400 kilos of trash we’ve found in a couple of hours last year. Of course, we cannot and shouldn’t compare ourselves to more polluted countries. All this garbage reflects how good our economy is and grows, but it also results in more single-use plastic, making it more convenient for our society to damage the environment. We could do way better. Especially where infrastructure and money are present and we are educated enough to know how and where to throw away our used products. It’s just the bad habits and ease of use that we need to get rid of.  

Doing more: online and offline, throughout the year

The World Cleanup Day is organized physically once a year, but you can do so much more in your everyday life. Newly promoted is the Digital Cleanup Day. As we are all active online, we all have a few thousand pictures stored on the cloud and we all have useless emails. And all this information needs to be stored somewhere, on servers and clouds that use electricity and cause pollution. Personally, I never realized that simply cleaning my spam folder and unsubscribing from newsletters, can have an impact on the world around us. 

Also offline, there are many more possibilities to have a concrete effect. All of the organizations below are participating in other events and projects throughout the year. 

World Cleanup Day Bern 2019 – Picture by Trash Hero Bern

FG- We are working together with international institutions like Greenpeace, Trash Hero World, Ocean Care and WWF Switzerland. But also national organizations such as AbfallTaucher, Clean Walkers, Pollution Enemies and Campax are contributing to the World Cleanup Day. It is very inspiring that we are all working towards the same goal; creating a positive impact on our environment. Because ultimately it’s not about the amount of participants in the separate events, but more about the impact we can create together. 

We live in an amazing world and country. If we want to preserve all this we should actively work on it. So, come join the World Cleanup Day, pick up some garbage on your next hike, remind yourself and others to not to litter and clean your mailbox and photo folder today!

FG- Everyone can contribute to a better environment, the change starts with you. Small actions with big impact! 

If you feel like starting NOW, find this years’ event locations here and come to help and make an even bigger impact! (For all events, there will be safety concepts according to the requirements of the BAG). If you want to learn more about how to do your own Digital Cleanup Day, please visit their website. We are ready to make an impact, what about you?

Sarah Ebling

          Sarah Ebling holds a professorship in Accessibility Studies at Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) and is a senior researcher at the University of Zurich. Her research focuses on natural language processing in the context of disabilities and special needs, specifically, sign language technology and automatic text simplification. Her groups’ contributions involve artificial intelligence techniques with a strong emphasis on user involvement. She is involved in various international and national projects and leads a large-scale Swiss innovation initiative entitled „Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies“ (2022-2026;