By Deanna Cook, Administrator, Bagamoyo Beach Lovers
The World Cleanup Day campaign and project methodology was designed by Let’s Do It! World, supported by the Let’s Do It Foundation. The movement was born in Estonia in 2008, when 4% of the total population came out to clean the entire country in only five hours. The global leadership team used a hub-and-spoke model to connect with partners around the world; they would communicate with and train national coordinators (in Tanzania, the national coordinator was Nipe Fagio), and then the national coordinators would communicate with and train regional coordinators (like Bagamoyo Beach Lovers).
The basic concept was simple: see it, map it, bag it, move it, and learn it; but of course, the reality was much more complicated than that. Below, we’ll address the five steps to World Cleanup Day, and the challenges we encountered with implementing each one in Bagamoyo.
- See it!
The first major issue to overcome was trash blindness. Trash blindness happens when people are so accustomed to seeing litter and waste in their surroundings that it becomes the norm. This is a very common problem in Tanzania, with many not even noticing the trash around them anymore. It’s common practice, in fact, to sweep the ground outside of one’s home to “tidy up” the dirt, while ignoring the piles of trash sitting a few feet away. In order to successfully pull off World Cleanup Day in Bagamoyo, we had to bring the issues of waste management and trash blindness to the forefront, and actively engage the community in fighting it. Changing behaviours takes time but having a conversation and discussing the issue is progress. Supplementing these conversations with community-sourced data helps to validate and shape the problem in a tangible, relatable way. It addresses trash blindness at its very core, by quantifying and recording waste, in order to open people’s eyes to what was right in front of them all along.
- Map it!
The mapping portion of the World Cleanup Day campaign involved using an app to generate citizen-science data on illegal trashpoints. Data points recorded included a photo and GPS location of the trash, the amount of waste, whether it was hazardous or not, the types of materials identified (i.e. plastic, textile, electronics, etc.), and the origin (i.e. household, non-household, or industrial). The data was then automatically input into World Waste Platform, an open database of illegal trashpoints around the world. World Waste Platform collects data from over a dozen different organizations and apps and amalgamates them in one common location. To date, there are over 260,000 points mapped.
In Bagamoyo, however, the challenge with this model was access to technology. Many people in the community don’t own a smartphone, tablet, or computer. This automatically precludes them from downloading an app and uploading their own data sets and information. Early versions of the app also couldn’t be operated without an internet connection, making it impossible to access in remote or rural areas. As a result, Bagamoyo citizens only mapped 27 trashpoints throughout the campaign—a relatively small number considering the population size and amount of waste in the area. To improve the level of citizen engagement in the future, different measures would need to be taken, like delegating computer-based tasks to select project leaders or designing a system that allows for both online and offline data collection.
- Bag it!
Once trashpoints were identified, the next step was to bag the waste. Waste was divided into two categories: trash and recycling, and sorted into different bags as it was collected. To do that, volunteers needed to know the difference between trash and recycling, so that they could make decisions and categorise the waste out in the field. In a developed country like Estonia, where the campaign was designed, this likely wouldn’t be a major problem. But in Bagamoyo, many people had never even heard of recycling before World Cleanup Day. This meant that before anyone went out to actually bag waste, they had to be educated about recycling and be given examples of recyclable items they might find. Despite these sessions on recycling education, there were, of course, still mistakes made, and people had trouble remembering what is considered trash and what can be for recycling. The Bagamoyo Beach Lovers team then had to go through all of the collected waste to make sure it was properly sorted after it was brought to a central meeting point.
The other part of bagging the waste involved conducting waste and brand audits. Waste and brand audits were carried out with a small sample of the total amount collected so as to identify the main types of waste in the community and the most prevalent brands found. The waste and brand audits were completed and recorded offline, and then later input into a spreadsheet and sent to the national coordinators, so fortunately, that aspect of data collection didn’t present an additional challenge for Bagamoyo Beach Lovers.
- Move it!
After the waste was sorted, bagged, and audited, it needed to be transported to the appropriate location. For trash, that’s the government dump, a few kilometres outside of town. For the recycling, though, the nearest collection point is nearly 60 kilometres away in Dar es Salaam. This is managed by a private company, The Recycler, instead of the local government. In places where there is no waste management infrastructure or municipal waste services, it falls on private companies and citizens to step up and solve the problem. This means that the responsibility of transporting the waste, both to the dump and to the recycling center, fell on Bagamoyo Beach Lovers. Although the government was asked to subsidize the costs of the trip, in the end, that never happened. When waste sites are so inaccessible and transport prohibitively expensive for the average citizen, it’s understandable that so much waste is not properly disposed of in Tanzania.
- Learn it!
The final step was to learn more about the issue and further promote the campaign message of a cleaner world. Most of the international campaign communication was online and in English, and most volunteers communicated with each other using WhatsApp. The limited access to technology in the community obviously was a challenge again here. Even out of the people who had smartphones, they didn’t always purchase mobile data packages or have access to Wi-Fi, so relying on the internet wasn’t always possible.
Nipe Fagio, the national campaign coordinator, did an excellent job to combat this by producing Swahili language content for radio, television, and print. They also marketed the campaign with posters and billboards in both English and Swahili, and co-hosted a variety of events across the country, like the World Cleanup Day introductory event in Bagamoyo. In addition to the event, Bagamoyo Beach Lovers formed a local WhatsApp group, posted updates on their Facebook and Instagram pages, and distributed Nipe Fagio’s posters around the community. They also recorded the contact information of all project stakeholders and followed up by phone or text if they could not be reached online.
Overall, it was a detailed, well-planned campaign designed to generate citizen-science data and unite people to clean up the world. In order for World Cleanup Day to work in Bagamoyo though, several challenges had to be overcome and modifications made to fit the local context. Only then could it be successful in the community.
Bagamoyo Beach Lovers is a small community-based organisation in Bagamoyo, Tanzania. Founded in early 2016 in response to the devastating amount of trash piling up along the shore, the organisation is now the leading beach management unit in the coastal region. Today, they work with local, national and international partners to achieve their goals: cleaning the beaches and oceans, advocating for sustainable consumption and waste management practices, and engaging and educating the community about the environment.