Being a good human can often seem like an impossible challenge nowadays. Climate change, biodiversity loss, poverty, war, crime etc. are such big things, what can one small human being do against them. Quite a lot as it turns out. On these pages we introduce a number of small initiatives that achieved big changes for the planet.
Plogging / #trashtag
The problem: Trash is lying around on the streets and in the fields and forests because some people are to self-centred to think beyond the tip of their own nose and leave their litter all over the place.
The solutions: Plogging is a new trend that first emerged in Sweden around 2016.
It’s a combination of ‘plucka’ (Swedish for to pick up) and jogging. Usually people gather together for a community jog around the city or landscape, as they jog they pick up trash and dispose it properly thereby cleaning up and creating a sense of responsibility for public places. Via the Internet the trend quickly became viral and spread across the globe.
Another trend that uses the human desire to boast and show off is the #trashtag challenge which started with some user posting a before and after picture of an area full of trash which afterwards he had cleaned. It was posted together with a call for people to post their own #trashtag pictures online.
Just recently at Voices own headquarters at the Volunteers Centre Skopje we had a cleaning action in our backyard and in the same week multiple other #trashtag challenges took part across Skopje.
The problem: making big institutions such as universities more sustainable
The solution: The green office movement developed a model to implement a sustainability strategy at university level. Usually a green office is a part of the university structure, officially included and funded by the university. But it is completely run by students. Their role is to raise awareness about sustainability issues among students and staff, to work actively with the administration to implement changes and to raise concerns if the institution is acting unsustainably. The green office of the University of Leiden in the Netherlands for example successfully implemented recycling spots on campus as well as free water taps. The Green office Maastricht successfully petitioned the university to install solar panels on their buildings and developed a whole sustainability strategy for them. Usually a Green Office is set up out of a student initiative asking the university to take that step. Thereby the students are supported by the team of rootAbility, the social business behind the idea of the Green Offices. The Green Office system started in the Netherlands and has by now expanded to universities in Germany, Sweden and even one in Costa Rica. Maybe soon in Macedonia as well?
Conscious Kitchen Den Haag
The problem: Every year millions of tonnes of food get thrown away because many countries produce and import more than necessary to ensure that everything is available all the time. For example, in France in 2018 more than 10 million tons of food were discarded(1).
The solution: Imagine a place where everybody can come together to cook and eat and celebrate life and humanity. I experienced such a place in the conscious kitchen community in The Hague and Leiden, Netherlands. Founded by international and Dutch students the concept is simple. Save food and make a dinner. Every Wednesday a group of helpers gathers at the big market of the city shortly before closing time and makes a round collecting left over food that would otherwise be thrown away. Mostly a variety of vegetables and fruits. The helpers are rewarded with their own share of left overs and then all the harvest is stored for the next evening. Thursday night a dinner is prepared with all the vegetables and usually some rice or couscous. The dinner is open to everyone and provides a space for meeting new people, creating a new community in the neighbourhood. Being partly founded by foreign students it also provided space for locals and newcomers to meet, eat and get to know each other. What could be a better start to a new friendship then a shared meal.
Recently the conscious kitchen has expanded its reach, establishing a branch in the neighbouring town of Leiden as well as serving two meals a week and doing event catering. It is a great example of turning (supposed) waste into value and of how small community driven initiatives can make a big impact.
The Ocean clean up
The problem: millions of tons of plastic waste in the oceans
The solution: In 2013, Dutch boy Boyan Slat, then 18, was fed up with plastic in the oceans and decided to take action. He founded the Ocean Cleanup foundation and invented a system that uses the power of ocean currents to collect plastic from the oceans on a big scale. At least that’s the plan as the technology is still in the prototyping phase. Plastic is carried by oceanic currents and accumulates in five hot-spots, the biggest of which is the great pacific garbage patch. The idea is basically to set up collecting vessels, that follow the same currents and inevitably will end up in the same areas as the plastic, collecting it on the way. According to their computer models it should be feasible to clean up half of the great garbage patch in just five years. In the mean time the foundation has grown to more than 80 employees and is still hiring. Now, you don’t have to found your own start-up right away to save the planet but it still is an inspiring story how one small human being can have a big impact in a short time.