Every year during the first weekend of March, people down under get together for the Clean Up Australia Day. Anyone can volunteer to help to clean a site. It is an opportunity to meet locals and to have a real positive impact on a place you are visiting.

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“So long as we are prepared to get involved and get our hands dirty, Clean Up events such as those of this last week will continue to make a difference. The ever increasing presence of plastics, beverage containers and other single-use packaging mean we need to continue to challenge our governments to implement effective waste management and recycling programs to reduce the amount of wasted resource that ends up in our precious environment. Clean Up activities provide vital community led data and feedback that influences decision makers.”

Ian Kiernan AO, Chairman and Founder of Clean Up Australia, a not-for-profit NGO raising awareness about the cause and supplying resources to help local communities cleaning their sites.

Although I wish Clean Up Australia were everyone’s daily habits, it is incredible to see such a significant mobilisation for this cause during an event across the country. The volunteers organising the events can also use it to sensibilise and educate participants about plastic consumption, waste management and the main issues of having trash in our rivers and oceans, for example.

I’ve mentioned it before on the blog: we try to pick up rubbish during our visits, just bending a few times without making a big deal out of it and without having it as the main objective of our visit. I believe small individual actions can in the long term change the world if we talk about them and inspire more people to follow them. I was very keen to participate in the Clean Up Australia Day.  For once, our visits were entirely focused on picking up rubbish. We chose to help to clean two sites:

It was a great experience to meet volunteers taking care of these places we love. Mangroves are great places to clean up as they retain a lot of trash from the river.

These are a few things I learnt today:

  • The smaller, the better: small pieces of plastic are the ones the animals eat so it is worth spending time picking up the small items. It is these little bits of plastic that end up in our food chain.
  • Plastic “breaks up” into smaller pieces: every single piece of plastic that has been produced is still on Earth. Plastic will not disintegrate, but it will break into small pieces that will then be eaten by animals. So big pieces are important to pick up as well before they become multiple smaller ones!
  • Polystyrene everywhere! We were surprised by the quantity of polystyrene we picked up, particularly in the Boondall Wetlands.
  • The difference between polished and unpolished glass: in the wetlands, the amount of glass we could have picked up was ridiculous. It could have been a full-time job for the day for all the volunteers on the site. Removing sharp broken glass will avoid animals to get injured. Removing big pieces of glass will avoid they become smaller, sharper and dangerous. But don’t waste time with small unpolished ones:  they are not dangerous, and their impact is neutral to the environment as it will become like sand.
  • Too much trash is generated by negligent people. In the Brisbane River mangrove, plastic bags were everywhere. So were cigaret butts. And many takeaway drink cups, cans and bottles. It is purely by negligence and “I could not care less” attitude. It is not hard to shop with a reusable bag and to bin a cigarette or a cup. That’s not something I learnt today, but it is a sad truth that I wanted to highlight.
  • We use plastic too much. It’s hard to change this habit when everything is packed in plastic containers at the supermarket, isn’t it? The tip we received: buy in bulk and separate it at home into smaller reusable containers.

These are the unexpected things we picked up:

In the Boondall Wetlands, while we were not closed to any path:

  • 3 tennis balls + 1 football
  • springs
  • a cardigan (that incredibly faded into the water… I was proud to spot that one!)
  • a pen
  • a few thousand pieces of polystyrene
  • a car light bulb
  • a deodorant spray

In the Boondal Wetlands area, closer to the road:

  • a car bumper and some other car pieces

Along Brisbane River mangrove, near the Botanic Garden:

  • a whiteboard
  • a fence (it took 5 and then 7 of us to carry it back… free gym for everyone!)
  • a casino token (unfortunately not in good condition to make us rich)
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Details of a bag of rubbish picked up in the Brisbane River Mangrove

Have you ever participated in a clean up event? Please tell your story in the comments below!

If you like the idea but missed the Clean Up Australia Day or are living outside Australia, don’t worry, you can still catch up. Just pick a place you like – near a river where trash is being trapped would even be better, grab gloves, a big solid bag, enclosed shoes, put your hat on and do it!

If you live in Brisbane, the Brisbane Clean Up Project, a community group, meet up every two months to remove rubbish from waterways around the town. Check out their Facebook page to join them, and we may meet up there: facebook.com/cleanupbrisbane

Things I learnt during Clean Up Australia Day
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