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Voluntary cleanups

Voluntary cleanups

Every summer since 1983, HELMEPA carries out public awareness campaigns starring the association's "Seagull" aiming to widely spread the message for Clean Seas and Beaches. In this context, in the mid-1980s for the first time in Greece schoolchildren and other citizens participated in voluntary beach cleanups. Since then, beach cleanups have been established as a key awareness raising tool for the prevention of marine litter. Moreover, the adoption and cleanup of a beach constitutes one of the most popular activities of the "HELMEPA Junior" environmental education program, which since 1993 is offered to schoolchildren, 5-13 years old, in kindergartens and primary schools throughout Greece.

HELMEPA coordinates in Greece two international voluntary initiatives: the International Coastal Cleanup Campaign and the European Cleanup Day, taking place in September and May respectively.

Register to take part in the International Coastal Cleanup campaign,
16 September - 16 October 2017

Zip Code:
Zip Code:
Name of Beach:
Type of Clean Up:
Start time:
Stop time:
Nr of Participants:
Everyone is invited to take part: students, parents, teachers, Port Authorities, Municipal and Regional Authorities, companies, embassies, environmental organizations, mountaineering and nature conservation societies, scuba-diving clubs, nautical and sailing clubs, local associations, volunteer groups and anyone else wishing to express their respect and appreciation for all that the natural environment offers us.

To facilitate the activities of participants, HELMEPA provides them with supporting material (cleanup guidelines, posters) and the special Trash Data Card, which should be completed during the cleanup and returned to HELMEPA. The processing of the recorded information provides useful scientific data pertaining to quantities, composition and origin of waste, which are then publicised in order to raise awareness for pollution prevention.

International Coastal Cleanup Campaign
3rd Saturday of September

This voluntary action is an initiative of the Washington D.C.-based NGO Ocean Conservancy and began in 1985 by an environmentally aware citizen of California, who decided to dedicate one day a year to the cleanup of a nearby polluted beach. This initiative soon developed into a global effort that takes place each September, constituting the oldest and largest event of its kind in the world. In order to facilitate the wide participation of stakeholders and citizens, HELMEPA integrates this initiative into the "Month of Action for the Marine Environment", which begins the third Saturday of September and lasts for a month.

In 2015, the International Coastal Cleanup Campaign marked its 30th anniversary. Since 1985 more than 10 million citizens worldwide have collected 90,000 thousand tonnes of waste, covering 565,000 kilometres of coastline in 153 countries. At the infographic to the right you can see the cumulative data for the first 30 years of the initiative.

European Cleanup Day - 1st Weekend of May "Let's Clean Up Europe"

The European Commission supported the establishment of the European Clean-Up Day in 2014, as part of the "Let's Cleanup Europe" campaign. Following the invitation of the organizers, HELMEPA has assumed the role of national coordinator of this European initiative in Greece. Besides the obvious benefit of reducing waste, voluntary cleanups mainly have a symbolic character and are used as a tool for raising environmental awareness. More information on this initiative and ideas for action can be found at:

A few words about European Clean-Up Day 2017

In total 5,402 volunteers, from 167 public and private stakeholders organised 127 beach, underwater, riverbank, lake-side, forest, park and other natural area cleanup activities, covering a distance amounting to 83 km. The volunteers collected 6.8 tons of rubbish, of which 2.6 tons were recycled in collaboration with the Hellenic Recovery Recycling Corporation (HE.R.R.Co).

As the volunteers, young and old, descended on beaches, rivers and lakes, they recorded the items of litter on special Data Sheets, which HELMEPA provided. The results made up the Top 10 of most common items of trash that pollute our natural environment.

Top 10 marine litter items in Greece

Type     Pieces
Cigarette filters      21.730
Plastic pieces less than 2.5 cm      8.458
Food wraps      6.026
Plastic bottles      4.645
Straws      4.581
Plastic bottle caps      4.177
Plastic bags      2.852
Plastic lids      2.231
Foam pieces less than 2.5 cm      2.187
Glass pieces less than 2.5 cm      2.075

In total, volunteers collected 75,889 pieces of litter, from the tiniest pieces of foam to a gym mattress and even some rubbish bins! Unfortunately, cigarette filters are, once again, the "champions" of the Top 10 list of marine litter items. This is characteristic of the indifference and ignorance of people regarding the damage that even the smallest item of rubbish can cause to the natural environment. Worrying is also the fact that 2 out of 3 items are plastic, which are associated to recreational activities and remain in the environment for long periods of time. Let us consider that the annual production of plastic has now exceeded 300 million tons and according to a recent scientific study, by 2050 the weight of plastics in the oceans may exceed that of fish !

Useful advice for the organization of voluntary cleanups

Underwater Cleanups

. Never dive alone and make sure you let the local port authorities know about your underwater cleanup, requesting a special permit, if necessary

. Start by recording anything that's floating on the surface of the sea and then get stuck into the "nitty gritty" below

. Collect separately recyclable items (e.g. plastic bottles) and hazardous waste (like batteries whose chemicals may seep into the sea)

. Don't try and remove large heavy items that are stuck on the seabed

. Notify the local port authorities about any mass items such as metal barrels or other metallic items on the seabed so that experts can handle them

. Don't forget to take your underwater camera!
Send us pics to


General Advice

Do you know how many years it takes for certain everyday household items to break-down at sea? Check out the poster

Are you recycling at home? We can recycle more than you might think... Get to know all the different items in the home that you can recycle and get started today!  
Check out the poster (in Greek)

Marine Litter Watch

The European Environment Agency has developed a modern e-tool, which allows volunteers who take part in beach cleanups to record easily, quickly and clearly the waste they collect, using their smartphone or tablet.

Besides its practicality, Marine Litter Watch (MLW) is compatible and coherent with the sampling methodology developed by the European Union on monitoring marine litter in a standardized monitoring approach, which ensures the collection of scientific data. This is of particular importance as marine litter is one of the key indicators used for monitoring and improving the environmental status of beaches and coastal waters of the EU countries, in accordance with the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).

MLW is available online for free for any interested user. You can download for android devices and i-phone / i-pad. Join HELMEPA's community of volunteer users and find detailed information about the on-line registration of waste.

Thus, apart from informing and raising awareness among participants, qualitative and measurable data are exported using the citizen science approach, which is widely promoted the last few years across Europe.

The next voluntary clean-up campaign to be co-ordinated by HELMEPA begins on 16 September 2017 and will last until 16 October, making it a "Month of Action for the Marine Environment". It goes without saying that we do not have to wait for specific dates to take action. Each of us can contribute daily in order to keep our seas and beaches clean. The time has come to realize that the solution to this problem lies in our own hands and we eventually must change the habits that harm our planet!

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