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The inspiring story of Heidi Solba and the World Cleanup Day

Five years ago, with 21 dedicated international environmental leaders, Heidi created the organisation Let’s Do It World. Heidi is now the President and Head of the Global Network. The NGO aims at tackling environmental and social issues due to mismanaged solid waste. Let’s Do It World also manages the World Cleanup Day, the biggest global campaign, which is presented today in 197 countries, all over the world. Heidi is strongly passionate about the project.

The EU Green Capital Secretariat interviewed her to get to know more about her experience and her passion for green initiatives.

Heidi’s first experience with sustainability dates back to 2008 with the first CleanUp event in Estonia, in which she participated. According to her, everything started with the idea of cleaning-up the environment at the national level, all together, as a whole society of Estonian people. The event got a remarkable media attention because 50.000 Estonians (5% of the total population of the country), participated. Among them, important leaders were present as well. The cleanup day ambassador was Mr Toomas Henrik Ilves, Estonian national president and more than 600 business organisations supported the biggest campaign ever held in Estonia. She thinks that Estonia is lucky to have great visioners on the environmental matter.

After few years, the movement was already truly international. The « one country one day » model changed to the bold provocative « one world one day ». Heidi’s task was to build up the biggest network in the world for the World Cleanup idea. 'Our idea was, what if one day we clean up all the whole world?' Heidi remembers thinking.

It was a crazy idea since she wanted to reach the 5% of participation at the global level. Their first task was to reach strong leaders and partners to bring people with much influence in this project to raise awareness and make them known.

The first World Cleanup Day took place on 15 September 2018. World leaders participated, and the event received important media coverage and, 17.8 millions of people from 157 countries on 2018 participated

Since 2018, five World Cleanup Days were organised, one for each year and bringing together around 70 million people. According to Heidi, the idea behind clean-ups is to show people in what kind of world we are living in. To do that, we need to synergize cooperation in all different sectors together (communities, universities, young people).

Group Picture during a World Clean Up Day

Let’s Do It World is an NGO, implemented in 164 countries and with a different team in each of them. These teams can have different sizes, depending on the country. But, in total, around 20.000 people are working for related NGOs around the world, among whom we can find leaders and volunteers.

In the headquarters located in Estonia, 7 people are working permanently but before the event, for its preparation, there might be many more people working as volunteers. The team of the Let’s Do It World is fully international and the number of people working on the project fluctuates. National students are also regularly involved through internships programs.

On top of this, the city of Tallinn has been a partner of the NGO for years and both the NGO and the city representatives have been working hands in hands together. Since the Let’s Do It World team is working on more than 60 projects, involving universities, partners and citizens to bring innovation, it was logical to partner with the city of Tallinn, the European Green Capital for 2023. They are currently preparing the next World Cleanup Day, set up for 16 September.

Tallinn as Green Capital 2023 is partnering with Let’s Do It World and does hold more than 60 projects in its yearly program. Among more than 60 projects, the biggest to lead, partnering with Let’s Do It World is the international project, Baltic Sea Campaign. That project aims to raise awareness of the citizens regarding the small litter and pollution at the Baltic Sea and urges to take an action for each and single one. Campaign will start with the Baltic Sea Day on 31st of August and ends on World Cleanup Day, 16th of September.

Heidi shared her opinion on how to involve people in sustainability and how to find solutions to mismanaged waste. 'We still have a long way to go in terms of sustainability and we still have a long way to go in terms of mismanaged waste around us and sustainable solutions in the world.

She imagines green projects and solutions at the global level, not only at the European level. Climate change, pollution, the loss of biodiversity are issues that need to be tackled at the global level and all countries all over the world should work together on that matter.

According to her, the first issue that we are facing is the lack of information given to the citizens. We also need tools and easy solutions to support the needed change.  

'We absolutely need to raise awareness so that people can ask themselves: what can I do?'.

People usually think that environmental issues are too big and that their actions cannot really bring positive effects. Some actions are too small compared to the seriousness of the matter. This is not true because all actions count. Media plays an essential role on how citizens are informed, and they should spread more solutions and inspirational stories so people can see that it’s possible to make a change.

Her second point on that matter is education. Young generations should bring knowledge about the consumptions patterns and healthy solutions. In this way we nudge also producers to go along with the consumer demands. Usually, behaviours are easier to change when you do it with a member of your family or with a friend. Changing behaviours on environmental issues must be fun.

Group picture during a World Cleanup Day

Heidi insists on the fact that discussion is key to make the community work useful. It will allow to overcome barriers and to get out of the comfort zone. To achieve the goals set, it is essential to start at the local level, with motivated citizens taking one step after the other, driven by passion, solution, and willingness.

To go further on that point and to show a concrete example, Heidi told us about the time she visited Cameroun. It was one of her most vivid memories from all the travels she had done. Cameroun is one of the poorest countries of Africa and the management of waste is really damaging citizen’s health.

'I remember seeing piles of waste, being burnt', she told us.  This waste was being sent by the developed countries to Cameroun so that it can later be burnt. The piles were composed of used cloths, footages, electronics, and leftovers from developed countries in the name of support. The quality of the air in the capital, Yaoundé, is terrible and it causes a lot of damage on its citizens‘ health because it’s almost impossible for them to breath properly and to see the sun through the smog.

The World Cleanup Day also reached to 43  African countries to try and create more awareness about the need to protect our environment.

Group picture during a World Cleanup Day

How can I participate in World Cleanup Day?

Heidi Solba gave us some encouraging and positive words on how to make a change, no matter who we are and where we are living. We should all measure our impact in the world and take care of small changes, day by day and step by step.

'Cleaning up our city and our planet must be something fun, it must be a way to create dialogue, bring more ideas so that we can be greener and cleaner all together'.

Learn how to take part in the 2023 World Cleanup Day on 16 September here. You can join an existing group or you can create your own group, your own project idea where you see the need to clean up an area.

Some additional good news

We hope that World Clenup Day will be added also to the UN Calendar to create the bigger impact by the engagements and collaborations. After all, in start of June in premiere of UN – Habitat General Assembly all 193 members states voted positively for the idea and now the final voting will be held during the UNGA in September in New York. This will help the NGO to gain more visibility in order to achieve their goal of 5% of engagement of the global population. Everybody can help, by talking about Let’s Do It World and the World Cleanup Day from the higher level to the lowest one.