Last week, the foundation Teeme Ära held the Clean World Conference 2017 in Tallinn to prepare for the worldwide cleanup day. On September 8, 2018, a total of 380 million people is expected to come together to collect waste. Whether the objective will be fulfilled, only time can tell, but Estonia’s reputation will certainly benefit from the initiative.
Delegates from more than 60 countries arrived at the conference and the main objective of the event seems to have been inspiring the local leaders of the other countries to not give up on the cause and try to involve as many new people as possible. The bar is set high. It will not be easy to exceed it.
Essentially, this was not a scientific event, rather a meeting of activists, which at times resembled a rite, where people affirmed their faith in the possibility of a better world. While a song dedicated to Mother Earth was sung in the energy circle on Friday morning, in the evening everyone spontaneously joined in during John Lennon’s programmatic vision of the future, „Imagine”, which sounded at the end of a presentation.
Dreams are beautiful, but life is tough, sceptics or realists would say to that.
One of the foreign guests, Antonis Mavropoulos, the president of International Solid Waste Association, who has worked with respective projects for decades and in dozens of countries, emphasised that waste is the result of inefficient production and inefficient consumption and that technology in itself has never been a problem or could be a solution to the problem.
„History is still written by humans, no matter how developed machines are,” Mavropoulos, said, adding that the task of humans was to lead technology, use it for the right purposes.
Something like this is attempted by Litterati, the founder and manager of which, Jeff Kirschner, said that their vision is to create a waste-free world. For this noble cause, they ask people to take photos of litter on the streets and upload them with data regarding the product, its brand and location onto the web. This creates a large database, which is then sold to companies.
Kirschner noted that the companies are actually interested in such data to better organise their activities. Litterati has spread all over the world and gathered around 320 thousand photos by today. More than half of those are from the United States of America, especially from California, where the initiative started, but there are quite many also from Holland, for example.
Kirschner suggested that one of the potential uses for the images collected would be organising art exhibitions at schools. He said that pupils might write essays on the topic of collected waste, tell stories in class followed by discussions on how this specific waste ending up on the street could have been prevented.
The eastern coast of the USA was represented by Asher Jay, an international adventurer, whose career took him from the fashion world to art projects intended to increase people’s awareness of the environmental issues. When asked how “Let’s Do It, World!” could create as wide a resonance as possible, Jay thought a competition could be organised between countries on who collects the most waste on the global cleanup day. As people love to compete, this sort of competitive approach may engage them better.
A panel discussion in the afternoon was attended by Kersti Kaljulaid, the President of the Republic of Estonia, who seemed to share the gathered people’s dream of a waste-free world.
Presentations were also made by the initiator of „Let’s Do It!”, Rainer Nõlvak, and some other local organisers, who introduced World Cleanup Day 2018, the new masculine brand and the undertaking’s technical side. Nõlvak remarked that if his initiative had failed in Estonia in 2008, this conference would never have taken place.
This is probably true. In this sense, honour and praise. What disturbed me a little is that all the selected performers were from the so-called developed world, the perspective of the developing countries was not represented by anyone on this stage, they only fulfilled the role of the audience. The conference was financed by the development cooperation budget of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and it was organised very professionally.
Also, at times it seemed that cleanliness meant something bordering on sterility. It was actually a little scary. For example, a slide show includes photos where the grass growing between stone slabs on the pavement was removed (fighting against the nature, not human-generated waste) or children of the developing countries playing on decayed mattresses outside (giving a hint of those having to be collected as waste although the children were certainly enjoying them).