From Estonia to the world - a global clean-up movement wins UNESCO-Japan Prize

08 October 2018

The Let’s Do It Foundation from Estonia is one of the three winners of the 2018 edition of the UNESCO-Japan Prize on Education for Sustainable Development for its international projects “World Cleanup Day” and “Keep it Clean”. Head of Global Partnerships and Finance Merili Vares and Board Member Eva Truuverk spoke to UNESCO about the win.

The Foundation will receive the prize, which rewards the three winners with USD 50,000 each, at a special ceremony at UNESCO Headquarters, Paris on 9 October 2018.

The Let's Do It Foundation global movement started with the simple idea of inspiring individuals in Estonia to change their attitude to picking up litter. In 2008 4 per cent of all Estonians picked up 10,000 tons of waste in just one day. By building a network of national teams, the movement snowballed culminating in the annual World Cleanup Day (WCD). In total including WCD the Foundation has mobilized more than 35 million people in 159 countries.

To eradicate 'trash blindness' it employs technology in the form of mobile phone app World Cleanup which anyone can use to identify, photograph, report and act on mismanaged waste in their community.

This year World Cleanup Day, held on 15 September, launched a global 'green wave' – beginning in New Zealand and travelling around the world, with volunteers taking action in their countries as the day evolved through different time zones, ending in Hawaii.

Keep It Clean is a follow-up project bringing together organizations, experts and visionaries globally to help communities develop long-term waste management plans.  

Success lies in simplicity

Head of Global Partnerships and Finance Merili Vares said: 'This whole project has taken years of hard work by our entire team turning a dream into reality. We can hardly believe we have actually achieved what we set out to do and have also been awarded this prize. We have always maintained that this is something you do for yourself. You can't wait for someone to come and change things, you need to act.’

Board Member Eva Truuverk, who has been working on the project since its inception, said the key to its success was positivity and the simplicity of the core idea.

'Picking up waste around you is the easiest way to show you care about your environment,’ she said. 'It is a little action which can have a huge positive impact.'

But it is not just individual action that counts.

'In a way World Cleanup Day turns the whole planet into a classroom for one day with millions of people learning by doing and sensing the connection between our actions and the environment. Our network operates in 159 countries with 80 countries cooperating at local, state and government level. This is key to the model. In order to create change we need all the stakeholders at the table', said Merili.

The impact of the movement is clear and documented. Clean places have meaningful benefits.

‘Studies and projects in slums which have been cleaned up and maintained by residents show positive effects on crime, health, and even climate change,’ said Merili. 'In addition, the data collected by the app has huge educational value and is very useful for local governments to come up with long-term solutions.'

Taking the idea further

In Estonia the project has moved on from simple waste clearance to sustainable community change projects. With the help of the new funding from the prize plans for the future include further replicating the movement developing a Keep it Clean document with information on how to maintain clean surroundings and which can be used by industry and governments alike.

'We also want to further develop education projects and programmes to further engage communities in how they can care about their own environment,’ said Merili.