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‘He really struck a chord’: Clean Up Australia going strong after 30 years

After her father’s passing in 2018, Ms Kiernan succeeded him as chairman of the organisation, which has had over its lifespan 17.7 million Australians devote 35 million hours of volunteer time.


This year, they’re hoping for 700,000 participants after having just over 600,000 in 2019. “It galvanises communities to come together and make a difference,” she said.

One example is in the bushfire-ravaged Eurobodalla Shire. Where traditionally local businesses would donate goods and services, this year the favour is being returned.

“We’re in the Mogo area, which is one of the places where bushfires absolutely ripped through on New Year’s Eve,” said Eurobodalla Clean Up Australia project officer Maree Cadman. “Some businesses that didn’t get wiped out are struggling, because we haven’t had the tourists here.”

More than 100 vouchers which have been paid for by the local council will be handed out to Clean Up volunteers, and can be used at any local business.

“We’ve got 31 sites registered in our area, and we usually get a couple of hundred people turn out on the day,” Ms Cadman said.

Maree Cadman, far right, and other locals cleaning up the Moruya River on Clean Up Australia Day in 2019.

Maree Cadman, far right, and other locals cleaning up the Moruya River on Clean Up Australia Day in 2019.

“For the volunteers who come together on Clean Up Australia day and in particular this year, which has been an extremely difficult time.

“The emotional and physical impacts are going to be with us for years to come. And joining a community group like this will bring us together and instil a sense of pride.”


There’s no question that Clean Up’s rise has helped inspire plenty of other environmentally-conscious initiatives.

“He was absolutely ahead of his time,” Ms Kiernan said of her father.

“He predicted plastic would be the rubbish challenge of our generation and unfortunately, he was spot on. We’re the second-largest wasters per capita in the world.”

This year, the Clean Up campaign is encouraging people to make small changes wherever they can – be it using a reusable coffee cup or refusing plastic packaging.

“Every decision you make to reduce your individual waste has an impact,” she said.

“There’s a great groundswell to do things better and do things smarter and not just throw away everything we buy and consume.”

Andre Eikmeier began his own movement, The Year of The Planet, after becoming increasingly aware of the need for humans to live more sustainable lives.

The aim is simple – encourage people to make one small change per month, every month in 2020.

“I found myself getting more concerned with things in the world that needed to change – climate change being a big one. I was becoming one of those people who complained about it at dinner parties or whatever,” the former wine retailer said.

“I thought ‘I want to do something about the stuff I don’t like rather than just complaining about it.”

Mr Eikmeier said the recent bushfire crisis in Australia had been a “real catalyst” for people to drive for real change in their day-to-day lifestyle.

"We need a lot of people to be sustainable imperfectly": Year of the Planet founder Andre Eikmeier.

“We need a lot of people to be sustainable imperfectly”: Year of the Planet founder Andre Eikmeier.

“We all demand of our various governments to make changes to fight climate change and companies which contribute the most to carbon emissions and that’s all good, but what happens is individuals are left with a sense of disempowerment.”

He said that more than 6000 people had taken up the pledge so far, donating to The Seabin Project in the process.

In January, the pledge was to give up disposable coffee cups and in February it was to avoid buying single-use plastic water bottles. In March, it will be to avoid disposable cutlery and plastic straws.

Small changes on a wide scale would be far more effective in the long run than wholesale changes by a few people, he said.

“We don’t need a few people doing sustainability perfectly. We need a lot of people to be sustainable imperfectly.”

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