International Clean Up

How one man’s response to finding litter in the sea led to a global clean-up campaign involving 120 countries

Millions of volunteers across the globe joined forces to clean up their local parks, waterways and woodlands on Clean Up the World Weekend. The campaign works at a grassroots level to mobilise global communities to clean and look after their local environments. The project began 18 years ago, when Australian yachtsman Ian Kiernan AO* was sailing round the world. Having waited years to see the legendary, long, golden weeds of the Sargasso Sea – renowned for its deep blue colour and clarity – he was dismayed to find them tangled with rubbish.

On his arrival home, Ian immediately organised a local clean-up campaign at Sydney Harbour. But when 40,000 willing volunteers arrived to help, he realised that the idea could be rolled out to the whole nation. After 300,000 people turned up for Clean Up Australia in 1990, the next logical step was to clean up the world. Three year’s later, with UNEP’s support, the global campaign was born.

The results have been staggering. In its first year, 30 million people across 80 countries participated. Eighteen years on and more than 35 million volunteers from 120 countries get involved every year, and the number keeps growing.

“Environmental protection at a global scale often starts with small individual actions,” Ian says. “We bring together individuals and small communities with large organisations and government in a joint effort to make our planet a cleaner and healthier place.”

Held 17 ñ 21 September, this year’s activities ranged from cleaning up small villages in Africa, to parks in S„o Paulo, mangroves in the Philippines and beaches in the Maldives. Some communities also launched long-term recycling programmes, restoration projects, tree planting events and awareness campaigns.

“Across Europe, the Asia Pacific, the Americas, West Asia and Africa, Clean Up the World Weekend is when we unite to clean, fix up and conserve our precious and shared environment,” Ian explains. “It’s a weekend where we rise above our geographical and political boundaries to prevent nature loss. We welcome more groups to join us.”

United Nations under-secretary general Achim Steiner praised the campaign for its role in helping to hand over a healthy functioning and productive natural world to the next generation. “It is our responsibility, as custodians of the planet today, to help conserve and promote sustainable practice,” he said. “Clean Up the World brings the focus squarely on to people as agents of change.”

*In recognition of his leadership, both in Australia and internationally, Ian Kiernan was recently made an officer of the Order of Australia (AO)

Contact: Clean Up the World Pty Ltd,
PO Box R725, Royal Exchange New South Wales 1225, Australia

Image: founder of Clean Up the World,
Ian Kiernan AO, with local volunteers
Photos: ©