“Lets do it Romania” has become the national day of picking up trash. Today, May 12th, was 2012’s “Lets do it Romania”. Over the past two years the event has been held in September but the date, and even the season, was changed this year so that it would coincide with the same event in some of the other countries in the region. In one day volunteers throughout Romania, the Republic of Moldova, Bulgaria, and Turkey picked up trash out of rivers, streams, forests, roadsides, fields, or wherever they saw large amounts of it.
How does it work?
“Lets do it Romania” is registered as a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Romania but it is also affiliated with “Lets do it World”, organizing on an international level. In the months leading up to the event anybody can contact the NGO and report a location that has a lot of garbage. They report the coordinates, information about the terrain, and roughly how many bags of garbage that can be cleaned up in the respective zone. The locations are registered on a map and in the weeks leading up to the event team leaders register their team and choose a location that they will be responsible for cleaning on the national clean-up day. Team leaders are volunteers and they lead teams of volunteers to clean up the zone that they choose. Also in the weeks leading up to the event a marketing campaign is launched which includes commercials, celebrities, posters, and other various marketing strategies both on-line and off in an effort to gather a large amount of volunteers for the event.
On the national clean-up day teams gather, they either provide their own supplies or receive supplies (gloves and garbage bags) from the NGO or local authorities, and they set off for a few hours of picking up everything from old cloths to plastic bottles to spare bike parts. After the even volunteers are urged to get online and officially state that they volunteered for the event, and to register the amount of trash bags that they filled. The numbers are important in that they help to measure the impact of the action which in turn justify funds for future “Lets do it Romana” events.
After being involved in the activity 3 times now I have had a lot of opportunities to reflect on what we are actually doing when we pick up the trash, and why the need for a national clean-up day exists. The trash that volunteers pick up each year is trash thrown down by other people. Both last year and this year I found myself in an area with a lot of trash concentrated in one location, essentially someone’s personal dump. I noticed that in areas outside of cities and towns, in villages and also at construction sites further from town you find piles of waste, weather it be single-use bottles or unused construction materials literally just thrown in a pile and left. I suppose it is much easier for people to find a place close-by and somewhat hidden to dispose of their waste than to rent a dumpster, or somehow transport their garbage to a place where it can be collected and disposed of in a designated landfill.
There are a couple of things that need to change in this situation and the local authorities are responsible for both of them. There shouldn’t be a need to gather up people on a single day during the year to pick up after others. First off, local governments need to provide a trash pick-up service to their citizens and to the citizens on the edge of town or even in nearby villages that don’t necessarily have the resources to be able to do the same. Secondly, the local governments need to consider littering a police priority at least until the mentality about littering changes. They need to target those people and companies doing the most littering and impose heavy fines that will in-turn fund the trash-pick up service and police salaries of course.
“Lets do it Romania” activates thousands of volunteers in all regions of Romania and as a volunteer activity it does help to encourage civic responsibility. The event also does much to actually clean up the country as thousands of bags and I don’t know how many tons of trash are collected from areas where the trash would have otherwise remained for years to come polluting both the view, and the ground water. In my opinion the largest impact that “Lets do it” has is awareness. Littering is a problem that everybody knows about but without “Lets do it” I’m not so sure that anybody would do anything about. I’ve seen people complaining about their dirty town and then later on throwing their trash or cigarette butts on the ground, contributing to the problem. Even though volunteers from all age groups volunteer for the event the event’s advertizing is certainly targeting a younger generation, mostly adolescents and college aged students. Targeting this younger group and teaching them these values through volunteer activities helps to ensure a cleaner future for Romania.
Over the past 3 years “Lets do it” has been growing in Romania. It started off on the right foot with an aggressive marketing campaign in the first year. The second year I saw more benefits for volunteers (t-shirts, materials) encouraging participation. The third year I saw a “Lets do it” make a small push for selective collection, making the activity a bit more difficult for the volunteer but with an increased educational and environmental impact. While the nature of the event is advocating for a cleaner future, the logical next step for “Lets do it” is to get involved and encourage its volunteers to get more involved in advocacy for a cleaner environment. By this I mean putting pressure on local authorities to make better decisions so as to help eliminate the need for a national clean-up day. At this point in Romania it is financially a better option for construction companies to leave all of their waste in one place rather than rent a dumpster for proper disposal. It is financially a better option for individuals to throw their garbage in a nearby forest than to transport it to a place that will dispose of it properly. The need for a national clean-up day won’t dissolve unless this is addressed. Companies need economic benefits for proper disposal whether it is a tax break or avoidance of a fine. Individuals need a better option, a garbage collection service. If these changes aren’t made, a national day of some citizens cleaning up after others will turn into a sad tradition that will only frustrate the public rather than the hopeful volunteer action that it is today.