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HOW OSTIA CLEAN-UP IS DRIVING CHANGE IN COMMUNITY

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IN LIGHT OF WORLD HABITAT DAY, ACCOMPANIED BY THE CO-FOUNDER OF OSTIA CLEAN-UP, A NONPROFIT WITH A MISSION TO RAISE AWARENESS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE, WE DISCUSS THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY ACTIVISM & WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A RESPONSIBLE MEMBER OF SOCIETY.

Words By Natsumi Amano

What is World Habitat Day?

The United Nations designated the first Monday of October of every year as World Habitat Day to reflect on the state of our towns and cities, and on the basic right of all to adequate shelter. The day is also intended to remind the world that we all have the power and the responsibility to shape the future of our cities and towns.

About Ostia Clean-Up

Ostia Clean-Up is a hub for young creative environmentalists in Ostia who share a deep respect for the sea and the environment. Since founded in 2019 by Giordano Margaglio, Bruno Morandi and Alessio D’Innocenzo, they have worked together to address and bring innovative solutions to various environmental problems, most significantly plastic pollution and climate change. They aim to safeguard the planet by changing-making in their community while creating a social network and involving even more people in the spheres of sustainability. 

What is the story behind your organization?

Giordano: Ostia Clean-Up is a wonderful group with a mission to bring a positive change in the community. I am originally from Rome, but in the last few years, I have mostly been out to Italy to study and travel. Now I work as a Disaster Risk Management and Climate Change Consultant for the United Nations Development Program in Istanbul. I have always been passionate about social justice, particularly ways of us taking part of the change that the world needs. Ostia Clean-Up was originally born out of a sense of urgency my friends and I felt to clean up an incredible amount of trash that is everywhere in my city, especially in beaches and parks. In Italy, more than 30 million tons of waste are produced every year, many of which are dispersed in natural ecosystems. We used to just go there to roll up our sleeves and clean up these areas. Over the course of time, the group has grown bigger and bigger, and achieved to become an organization that does not just physically pick up trash, but involves environmental education: workshops with school kids and seminars for grown-ups and artistic projects with other community groups.

Staiy: It is amazing that Ostia Clean-Up also teaches people about environmental issues and inspires them to take action. Nowadays, there are a number of civic groups that do trash pick-up in most parts of the world, but only a tiny proportion of them seem to focus on the educational side. 

Giordano: Exactly! We find it crucial to get our hands on educating people about one of the biggest challenges our world faces now. Although it goes without saying that getting physically active to alleviate the environmental burden is important, we have to tackle the root cause of why there are environmental issues in the first place. Otherwise, with skyrocketing global populations and accelerating urbanization, the mitigation efforts would not be able to keep up with the consequenting bigger footprint. Therefore, we thrive to initiate a”wake-up-call” for people to be more aware of the bigger picture and furthermore, bridge the gap between awareness and actions.

“Think globally, act locally.”

How does the community clean-up work?

Giordano: Up to this point, we have had about twenty clean-ups, and they prove to be successful thanks to our hardworking team members and over five hundred dedicated volunteers in total. Clean-ups may look nice and simple on the surface, but in fact, there are plenty of plannings that go into it behind the scenes. First and foremost, we have to check the condition of the clean-up location to make sure that there are no dangerous surroundings and hazardous substances. We then partner up with a local waste management company to properly deal with the waste collected. On the day of the event, our team and volunteers gather up at the meeting point. We kick off the event by giving the participants a detailed instruction on how to efficiently collect trash so that we can sort out all types of litters such as papers, plastics, and organic waste, for them to be appropriately recycled. Next, we equip every participant with gloves, pliers, bags and nets so that everyone gets set to collect as much trash as possible. In the meanwhile, we try our best to make the experience fun and chill; being in the sun, surrounded by nature, and meeting new people because we want people to have a good time, too! That is why we usually have music in the background and occasionally some foods and snacks so as for us to make an environment where participants feel a sense of community. This ultimately leads to higher engagement in our activity and makes people feel more encouraged to be part of this kind of collective effort over and over again.

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“Alone, you have power. Together, we have force.”

Ostia Clean-Up’s activities take place in Ostia, Italy. What are your thoughts on community activism?

Giordano: To explain briefly about Ostia, it is generally considered to be a socially complex district because the area has been traditionally associated with mafia, drug-dealing, criminality, so it does not have the best reputation. What is sad is that young people are typically influenced by the circumstances they grow up in, so a lot of the youth in this community are in danger of stepping into the wrong direction. Hence, one of our objectives aside from driving environmental impact, is for us to educate students in this area how to care about other people and inhabitants in the world. That is to say that we try to embody an example of what it means to be a good member of society. The inspiration does not necessarily have to come from environmental activism, but it could originate from anywhere ranging from music, art to sports. All in all, if we create more opportunities for youngsters to know how fulfilling and motivating is to have a purpose in life and work towards a shared goal with others, we can empower each other and shape a thriving community. 

Staiy: What an important work Ostia Clean-Up is doing! We find lifting each other up and leaving no one behind for social well-being, extremely impactful especially in the relatively disconnected climate of our current society. Generally speaking, as for environmental sustainability, a lot of emphasis seems to be on individualistic approaches such as making your lifestyle zero-waste and going plant-based. What are your thoughts on the benefit of coming together as collective selves?

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Giordano: I think making a more sustainable choice in your everyday life is underrated as small daily efforts from millions of us end up a powerful force for change. To touch on a motivational aspect, what I always say is that a hundred people can tell you that you have to live an eco-friendly lifestyle, but until you truly feel the need and want from within, you would never make the transition. Provided that behavior and habit are two of the hardest things to change, I think being in a community of like-minded people can plant a seed in your soul to start questioning. In the end, it all comes down to you wondering about the impact your in/action has on society and to discuss with other people how you can improve them. Then you may, for example, start to think twice before buying groceries that are excessively wrapped in plastic, or switch to renewable energy sources at home. I am also making a transition myself to reduce my household waste and go plant-based. It is worth mentioning that it is not easy to power up zero to one hundred to try doing everything perfect from the get-go. You may feel isolated or alone, being faced against tons of new challenges all at once, and this is where the role of community comes in; it gives you a sense of belonging and connection to people where you feel that you are not the only one dealing with them and that you are not alone. On a practical note, being part of a community also means that you have someone to ask for advice and vice versa, which enables you to make your eco actions itself sustainable.

“Act as if what you are doing makes a difference. It does.”

Ostia Clean-up holds speaking events and workshops as well. What impacts have engaging with the community this way made on people in the community?

Giordano: We believe it is essential to integrate the practical action of clean-ups with theoretical notions regarding the current climate and ecological crisis. Since autumn 2019, we have been going to schools and companies in the city to conduct environmental seminars. To start with, we went to a high school that I used to attend. Personally, when I was a teenager, I wish there was someone who sheds light on those issues so that more people get to be aware of them from earlier stages of their lives. With this idea in mind, we tried to make the seminar as fun and approachable as possible because no one likes being told that they are doing something horrible and what is /is not to do about it. My approach is much more positive; for instance, rather than showing many images of whales that died with kilograms of plastic trash in its stomach or turtles with plastic straws in its nostril, I highlight the benefits of a green, sustainable society. Protecting livelihoods of those who are vulnerable to climate changes, and leaving a beautiful world for future generations is a form of respect, so that they can enjoy the clean air, beautiful oceans and mountains as much as we do now. I found that it is by far more motivating and encouraging for them to start their eco-conscious journeys. It is very exciting to see many younger generations in general are making changes to a more sustainable lifestyle. Furthermore, we also have participated in demonstrations and events organized by companies such as Booking.com in the area because it is clear that the private sector is responsible for a significant share of environmental degradation and ones that need urgent change from the ground up. These events have allowed us to connect with people in the industry on a various levels as we eventually ended up discussing areas of their business and practical ways that they can be less damaging to the environment. That could be also financially beneficial for them because of the increased operational efficiency and the higher exposure to a new customer base, which is sensitive to issues surrounding ecological sustainability.

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Staiy: Is there anything you pay specific attention to when you talk to different demographics of people? 

Giordano: The way I see it is that the perception towards ecological crisis varies from different groups of people, let alone each individual depending on their upbringing, media source they consume, and other personal backgrounds. What’s more, older people are more likely to feel difficult to change their habits and beliefs as their foundation of how they see the world tends to be firmly built while students generally have a white canvas ready to be painted in any colors they would like. Irrespective of the difference, what I firmly believe they have in common is that they like something fun and exciting, so we use quizzes and games to introduce these issues accompanied by storytelling as a tool. I find talking about very tangible and concrete stories, very powerful as opposed to merely using numbers and data because story-telling enables people to connect on a human level.

“Go vocal for local.”

What are some of the exciting changes you think that is happening in our society now?

Giordano: There are many incredible initiatives happening both glass-roots, and on an international level, but nothing excites me more than collective new awareness for greater justice, especially from youth, which I witness happening first-hand through what I do at UNDP, Ostia Clean-Up, and also in my personal life. On a broader scale, an entire generation has been increasingly woken up on what society is doing wrong and fighting against them. Social media particularly has been a hub for online activism from youth, for youth, and it has been my fuel to see young people bravely speak up for what they believe in. Although there are significant transitions being made toward a more sustainable production especially in the mobility, fashion, and food industry, these aspects of change-making may seem too big to tackle for the majority of us. However, what the youth is doing is to personalize it and try to reduce their impact within their own means, which I think is incredibly game-changing for those people who have a hard time taking global issues personally. 

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“We only have two choices: do nothing or do something.”

Call-to-Action! Is there anything you want to say to our readers?

Giordano: I believe where it all starts is to learn and have an awareness of social and environmental causes. The first step can be: putting yourself out there, talking to people, and getting involved in local actions. It is also important to educate yourself on why we have the problems that we have, so reading books and watching documentaries would advance your knowledge and build the foundation of your action-taking. Nonetheless, I have to say that there is no such thing as a perfect recipe for activism, but changing your consumptive behavior so as to vote with your wallet for the world you would like to see is a powerful way to make an impact for the greater good. Practically speaking, look around your house and see where you can reduce your plastic consumption. I have noticed that the bathroom is where many products, ranging from shampoo, razors, toothbrush, and deodorant, contain single-use plastic. You can find alternatives on your local zero waste shop or an online eco goods shop which could save you money if you buy things in bulk or a larger amount. Bring your own bags, utensils, cups and water bottles whenever you can. Be conscious of the impact of your diet; cut back on animal products, particularly red meat consumption as much as you can and choose local, seasonal and organic if possible. Support small, local businesses that truly care about people and the planet. I can assure you that you will feel by far healthier both in mind and body because you are intentionally choosing what is good for the planet and yourself. Do not try to do everything right overnight, and instead, go slow but steady because you want to be in a game for the long run as a responsible member of society.

At Ostia Clean-Up, there are a number of projects currently underway, some of which involve collaborations with other organizations and even book-exchange; you cannot keep your eyes off of them! To find out more, visit their website and follow them @ostiacleanup