There’s been a little bit of a movement going on in the virtual world of Facebook recently that’s spilled out and is having a very real ‘on the ground’ effect all across the Algarve. Locals have been inspired in the last few months to take matters into their own hands - get organised - and get out there and remove rubbish that’s ruining our lovely landscape themselves.

But how did this all come about?

Well, let’s rewind a bit and travel to Holland to meet Jelle and Anne, a dynamic Dutch couple, who in July last year decided, even amidst a pandemic, to stop chasing career and money and to quit their jobs to live in a more minimalist way and to do things they believe in and try to live a more meaningful life. So, with this in mind, they bought a nine-metre long blue sailboat called ‘Vrijistaat’ (which means, rather appropriately, ‘free state’) and sailed off into the sunset in search of distant shores and adventure.

They arrived in Porto in mid-October and then travelled down the country until they eventually docked in the ‘picture postcard’ town of Alvor.

They spent their time exploring, getting to know the place, the people, and the wildlife. But because they are very passionate about leaving a “positive footprint” in the places they visit, it wasn’t long before Jelle was volunteering at a dog shelter in Sagres and Anne in a soup kitchen in Portimão.

However, in their free time, they would continue to go on walks around Alvor and explore. They found the place truly stunning but were dismayed to see so many piles of trash lying around. They were particularly upset about a mess in a park along the waterside near the marina and decided to try to do something about it. The rubbish was considerable, so they put a shoutout on the ‘ALVOR’ Facebook group to see if anybody fancied coming to help tidy up? There was immediately a huge response and interest with lots of people ready to volunteer.

But of course, this was all during the lockdown, so it wasn’t as simple as all that, and so, in the end, Jelle and Anne decided to just get to work themselves and armed with, in their words “garbage bags, gloves and a lot of good cheer” in no time they had collected lots of bags full of things like water bottles, tin cans, old shoes and clothes. They admit that as the day wore on the seemingly endless amount of rubbish did start to make them waver a little in their resolve, but they were constantly spurred on by curious passersby who stopped to tell them what a good job they were doing and asked what group they belonged to? And how to join? This encouraged them to persevere and they ultimately managed to pick up and dispose of an impressive 800 kilos of rubbish themselves in just that one day.

Jelle said, “You will be surprised at how much you can achieve if you just start. It’s just that first push that’s the difficult part because it’s easy to feel like the problem is just too big to tackle, but in all honesty, in just a few hours we managed to tidy up what would have taken years to accumulate”. Jelle and Anne said they have “decided to stop thinking about how big the world is and just look to see what we can do in the world around us, and since then we are much happier”.

When they got back to their sailboat they posted pictures of what they had done on Facebook and received what they said felt like a “standing ovation”, with lots of people keen to find out when the next clean up would be so they could join. This made Jelle and Anne realise that there seemed to be a huge demand for a place for residents to organise clean up events, keep an eye out for litterbugs and basically ‘talk trash’.

And so, they quickly set up their own Facebook group which they called ‘ONLY PLANET’.

Word quickly spread with lots of people joining the group and, inspired by what they saw, also decided to go on their own solo litter picking missions. They posted their accomplishments on the page, which only served to spur on the next (what would soon become known as) ‘Clean Up Hero’.

Jelle and Anne believe that getting organised is the key to success, and so they also set up a Google Maps page where people can pinpoint where there is rubbish that needs picking up, so that the Clean Up Heroes know about it - and plans can be made to go and ‘rescue the rubbish’.

But after they had done all they could, the wind started blowing again and they sailed off to Sicily where, quite remarkably, they managed to do the same thing all over again - collecting rubbish, sparking a movement and establishing an ONLY PLANET group there as well. Now though, they are in Greece working as flotilla skippers. Jelle and Anne are doing their best to keep organising these things, but, of course, it’s tricky having sailed away and they want to pass the mantle (or rubbish bags and gloves) on to willing locals.

Luckily, there are lots of them - all across the Algarve. They have even set up a new Facebook group themselves called ‘Algarve Clean Up - Only Planet’ and more and more people are joining and regularly posting before and after pictures of the salutary effect they are having on the landscape. Jelle said, “We never could have imagined it would have such a snowball effect and we’re hoping the movement will continue to gather momentum and snowball even bigger and further”. To hijack his metaphor, I would even say that if we keep it rolling we could even cause an avalanche (admittedly not the best metaphor for cleaning up mess, but you get the point).

With lots of rubbish everywhere it’s easy to become a bit despondent and overwhelmed, but as Jelle said, and it’s the message that he and Anne are so passionate about spreading, “Even though there are lots of problems in the world, it doesn’t stop us doing what we can to solve the problems at a local level. People can now walk through a clean park in Alvor. For the world it means nothing, but for the local people it means the world”.

Up until now the locals’ group (Algarve Clean Up - Only Planet) has just been encouraging people to go on their own solo missions, however, now restrictions are easing they hope to organise hikes and larger group cleanups. Follow them on Facebook to get updates and get involved.

Meanwhile, The Portugal News will do our best to keep everybody updated on their progress. Let’s take inspiration from these Dutch sailors, start local and do what we can do to keep this beautiful place we have the good fortune to live in, well... beautiful. As Jelle said, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something”.