By Laszlo Juhasz — Slovak financial analyst Rastislav Krul and his wife once waited out an hour-long traffic jam by picking up several bags worth of rubbish around a rest area off the motorway. “No one joined in. People just watched us from their cars,” recalls the 30-year-old, who has launched an anti-litter campaign from his western village of Rovinka. “For us time flew by, for them it went slowly,” he adds, picking up yet another plastic bottle on a weekend stroll around a lake.
Their idea is simple: Anyone who picks up at least one item of trash a day qualifies as a Wastebuster. Since last year, they have been spreading their philosophy online.
Their Facebook page now has thousands of followers, who post stories and photos of cleaning up the streets and countryside. Most of the comments are positive.
Rastislav says setting an example is like a long-distance run. No instant results but he is optimistic about change down the line.
“When people see us picking up trash, they never join in. But I think it does make them start to reflect on what we’re doing,” he says.
“Maybe it’ll stop them from tossing their next beer can or bubble gum wrapper.”
In the same vein, the 1 Piece of Rubbish campaign, launched by British expatriate Eddie Platt in the southern French city of Marseille has won cyber fans around the world from Buenos Aires to New York.
Participants post selfies on a social network each time they pick up a piece of litter and put it in the rubbish bin.
Boss on board
Their crusade began two years ago, when Rastislav was living in the capital Bratislava and overheard his neighbours complain about litter on the block.
“I realised that if fewer people complained and instead each picked up one piece of garbage off the ground and binned it, our city would not be as polluted,” he says.
He, himself, began doing so and has been picking up litter every day since. He also encouraged his wife, Veronika, 30, to join in.
“Before I met Rasto, I thought garbage on the ground didn’t concern me. He’s shown me that it doesn’t take any extraordinary effort to pick up trash,” she says.
“Now it’s become a part of me,” she adds, pointing to the plastic bottles, cans, empty cigarette cartons and sweet wrappers poking out of the grass.
She says they do not stop at one piece of trash a day.
“When we go for a walk, bike ride or hike, we usually take some gloves and bags with us. Then if we see something we can just stop, pick it up and walk on.”
Rastislav has even managed to win over his boss: “When he’s out with his kids, they sometimes pick up trash.”
Slovakians rank among the least worst offenders for piling up rubbish in the European Union, according to Eurostat figures, which showed each of the country’s 5.4 million inhabitants produced about 321 kilos of household rubbish in 2014.
How much of it ends up thrown out on to the streets is hard to say, but the couple feel they still have plenty to do and say the Wastebusters project is a good option for those who hate organised cleaning.
“They don’t have to plan anything or specifically go somewhere to pick up trash,” he says.
“You can do it on your way home, on the way to the cinema or while waiting for the bus.
“One person’s a litterer, another’s a cleaner. You drop litter, I pick it up.
“Laws and fines don’t solve anything. It’s people’s mentalities that should change.”
Last month, the Slovak Wastebusters launched a website to further spread the word. They also plan to provide tips and tricks on how to reduce waste.
“I took the first step by no longer buying bottled water for work. Instead, I brought a glass water bottle that I fill up and use,” says Rastislav.
Their main piece of advice, however, is one that may sound like a no-brainer but makes a world of difference: all it takes is one piece of garbage a day.