Monday, May 5, 2008


The objective was to clean up Estonia. The second objective was to get into the Guinness Book of World Records as having had the largest one-day clean up of trash and rubbish ever recorded. Both objectives were achieved.

The program was called “Teeme ära!” or roughly “Let’s do it!”, and it was a pure volunteer effort by a bunch of kids who thought they could organize the entire country to clean up fifty years of trash that had been dumped into the woods and along the roads. At latest count, there were about 50,000 people involved, and they collected over 8000 tonnes of trash. Let those numbers sink in a bit. 8000 tonnes is 8,000,000 kilograms, or 20,000,000 pounds of trash. And the 50,000 people who showed up to spend a pleasant Saturday immersed in other people’s refuse would be the same as 12,000,000 people showing up for a trash collection in the United States. Imagine the entire city of New York, out picking up and bagging rubbish. The effort in Estonia was just astounding.

The project was organized by some geeks who first located the major problem areas on Google maps and then calculated where the trash should be taken, all of this in order to optimize the collection. The maps were put on their web site and we downloaded our assignments before we went on Saturday.

We went with Andres and Triin (above), and their two-year-old Liisu whose heart was in it but who did not contribute very much, and were assigned to clean up the open space on the Pirita River, right across from our house. This was great, because I had wanted to clean this place up anyway, and now I was getting a lot of help. So we filled many plastic bags, put them in the car and took them to the flag station where they were transferred to dump trucks. I thought I was finished, but Andres, in his enthusiasm, volunteered to have us give another team a hand because they were having difficulty finishing cleaning up their assigned location.

This turned out to be private dump, with the age of trash going back at least 20 years. I would have thrown up my hands and called in a front end loader, but the Estonians dove right in, and by 4 o’clock we had the place looking pretty good. There were, I believe, another 20 years of trash under where we stopped, but at least now it looked presentable. We all repaired to the gathering point where we were treated to a bowl of some amazingly good pea soup.

As a reward, we all got buttons, which said “Tegeja” on them, or “Doer”. We went out there and we did it. It was an amazing day that we will not soon forget. The power of volunteers, harnessed and organized to achieve a good end, is impressive indeed.

1 comment:

Rolling_Estonian said...

What Libby left out is that the "Doers" also uncovered four corpses in the woods, decaying nicely under some trash... I think if you dig too deep in any place in Estonia you'll either find a body or some ruins.