Everyone wants a cleaner environment for their kids, but only a few try their best to guarantee it to them. It’s everyone’s right to live in a cleaner environment, but it’s our duty as well to create the conditions for this cause, through our leading example.
This is the thought, maybe also trivial, that pushed me to join the first edition of the Clean Up Sundays, an initiative which had been already launched last year by some of my classmates with the goal of encouraging local communities, from all over the world, to gather once a month for a few hours to remove the trash from their neighborhoods.
On October 13th, we met outside the gates of Campus X and with the most optimistic intentions, we started our challenge.
The area we chose to cover in order to pick up the litter wasn’t randomly decided. In fact, during a previous meeting we had had for organizing the event, we had agreed in choosing the road taken every day by the students in order to make them notice our efforts and, hopefully, to convince some of them to join the movement.
After four hours of exhausting work, starting from the nearest bus stop in Via Tor Vergata, then passing through Via Berkeley, to finally conclude at Campus, we succeeded in our purpose.
Even though the road we cleaned was barely 500 or 600 hundred meters long, the quantity and the variety of trash picked up were mind-blowing. Until then, I’d never truly realized the quantity of garbage that could be hidden and stored in such a small and narrow space.
We found the most common rubbish, like plastic bottles, aluminum cans, and cigarette butts, but we also came across less expected objects such as televisions, computer and car components and shoes. In the end, we got more than 30 trash bags!
At this point, one may argue that it’s not citizens’ duty to pick up the trash in the streets during their free time since this work should be carried out by the municipalities we fund by paying our taxes. In theory, I would agree with this reasoning, but this doesn’t apply neither to some exceptional circumstances nor to the core philosophy of Clean Up Sundays.
Regarding exceptional circumstances, I’m referring, for example, to the several garbage crisis which hit my city, Rome, for all over the year.
The most critical one happened in July  and I can still remember the overloaded garbage cans left untouched for days by the city environmental services and the disappointment of all of us, citizens, who had to leave the garbage bags next to the cans hoping that these would have been removed soon. This didn’t happen, and within a few days, one could barely walk in the sidewalks without stepping on the trash, the smell made it even more unbearable by the Summer heat.
There is no need to say that such a situation could be really hazardous for the hygienic conditions of residents and pedestrians.
I think that many of us felt a deep sense of frustration both as citizens as well as human beings in that context. And it was exactly the frustration and disappointment of seeing the road where we walk through every day, being completely full of trash, which encouraged us, a bunch of Italian and International students, to roll up our sleeves and create the Clean up Sundays.
In spite of the fact that those problems shouldn’t be there and there should be effective institutions taking care of them, in times of crisis we believe that a community should recover from the spirit of initiative of their citizens.
However, it’s important to stress that our initiative hasn’t been thought as a way to regularly involve communities in the picking up of trash in the streets. We don’t expect this commitment neither from citizens nor from ourselves. Our idea isn’t meant as a way to replace the work that municipalities should do. Our goals are subtler and simpler.
Our first ambition is to spread the idea of Clean Up Sundays from the surroundings of our university community to the entire city, and, if possible, to the world. Ultimately, we want people to be more aware of the impact of the trash they produce and leave.
This may sound too ambitious, but it’s not. The initiative has been scheduled once a month exactly for this reason. In fact, almost everyone, regardless of the jobs they do, can manage to save at least three or four hours per month to do something for their local community.
Furthermore, we think that there is another reason which can make people interested in joining our initiative, namely the desire to rediscover the feeling of being part of a community in a cultural context, like ours, in which this has been completely forgotten, denied and replaced by a shallow excess of individualism. Indeed, we hope that our events may be an occasion for many to get to know new people and create community bonds aimed at reawakening civic awareness.
In conclusion, our initiative has been conceived as a way to smartly address the needs of our times, in which we regularly experience the ineffectiveness of national and international institutions in tackling those problems which are having a deep impact on our lives, like Climate Change.
Striking in the streets every Friday to make our leaders aware and to push them to do something is noble and useful, but it’s not enough. If we want to make a significant impact, we should escape the idea of taking actions in an exclusive institutional framework (which is, of course, necessary) and we should instead rediscover our potential as citizens who, besides raising their voices during strikes, are also able to show what should be done. The Clean-Up Sundays, in its humbleness and simplicity, is pretty much an example of today’s need for bottom-up initiatives.