Cleaning up with GPS technology

  • 2008-05-08
  • By Chris Brown

COMMUNITY SPIRIT: Thousands more people than expected turned up for the massive volunteer trash pick up event.

TALLINN - One of the most impressive feats of grassroots organization in Estonian history has been successfully concluded after tens of thousands of people took to the streets to pick up trash.  
Teeme Ara (Let's do it), gathered 's and properly disposed of 's thousands of tons of waste at illegal dump sites spread around Estonia.  The event involved a huge amount of planning and coordination. It came together on May 3 as nearly 50,000 people scoured Estonia collecting refuse. 
The brainchild of Ahti Heinla and Rainer Nolvak, both highly successful Estonian entrepreneurs from the high tech industry, Teeme Ara was aimed at addressing the immediate need to clean up many natural areas throughout Estonia. A secondary goal was to help change people's mindset about litter.
"Smaller cleanup efforts have been worked on before, but this is the biggest that we have ever tried," Nomme Mayor Rainer Vakra said.

"While we had about 35,000 people sign up on the Web site, the total ended up at around 50,000 's mostly from people just coming to help out today,"  Vakra said.
In the months before the event volunteers scoured the country using GPS technology to locate and catalogue dump sites.  This was accomplished through the use of innovative and specialized software created by Heinla, one of the architects of the Skype internet calling system. 
Once the information was assembled, teams of volunteers across the country were assigned to various locations that had been identified in the survey. 

One of the many organization points throughout the country was located in the Nomme district of Tallinn. Vakra led the organizational efforts there. While he described the project as a huge success, he also said he hoped the event would not have to be an annual one.
"We want today to be big enough to make it so that there won't be any work to do next year.  Maybe we can make it like the Olympics and only have to do it every four years," the mayor said. 
Vakra said the key to avoiding more frequent cleanup efforts is to change people's mindset about illegal dumping.

"We hope that these events will help change people's thinking by letting them see what happens when people don't take proper care of garbage," he said.
A vast number of companies acted as corporate sponsors for the event and many sent teams of employees to volunteer.  Additional help was provided by waste management companies that agreed to provide disposal and recycling services for the event at discounted rates.