Play to Save. Is It Possible That the Garbage Combating Could Become a National Idea?

Photo is provided by founders of the "Clean Games" project
Photo is provided by founders of the "Clean Games" project

There is a protection while playing. The project "Clean Games" ("Чистые игры") is the winner of the Russian Geographical Society Award in the "The Best Environmental Project" nomination . Brothers Dmitry and Vladimir Ioffe are its founders. They managed to unite people across the country with ecoquests. Participants collect garbage and usually its weight is not less than 5 tons.

We continue to acquaint you with the awardees of the RGS Award and we have enquired almost all their secrets. How have they managed to make fun from the volunteer clean-up? Where is the collected garbage ususally sent? And how has the ecoquest covered all the countries of the world? Details are in our material.

About the "Clean Games" project

The project was created in St. Petersburg and it has spread to 114 cities of Russia and three foreign countries (Nigeria, India, Ukraine) by 2018.

Ecoquests are the visiting card of the "Clean Games" project. Young people collect and sort waste, clean up natural objects and get points for it during the competition. The winner is the team that collects more garbage than others. Each event involves 100–200 people: students, high school students, representatives of youth volunteer associations, young couples and local residents.

According to the rules of the game, participants have to post a photo of the completed task with a geolocation mark. Each event takes about 2-3 hours. During one quest, participants collect from 5 tons of garbage, and about half of it is recycled. Events are held every week in different regions of Russia. 262 events have taken place since 2014. More than 20,900 people participated in ecoquests and more than 440 tons of garbage were collected.


Photo is provided by founders of the "Clean Games" project
Photo is provided by founders of the "Clean Games" project

- How did the "Clean Games" originate?

We went with friends to float on Vuoksa Lake in the Leningrad region in 2014. The extremely beautiful place suffered from tourists who leave a lot of garbage. So, during this travel the concept of a competitive game was invented. Garbage has become a valuable resource, and you need to hunt it and get points for it. The most diligent participants at the end of the game are awarded with prizes and gifts.

The first ecoquest was organized after just a couple of months. It was not called as “Clean Games” for the first time. The first game was called “Clean Islands, or Map, Trash, Two Oars”. The event was held with the help of the “Running City” project and support of the Commission on eco-efficient tourism of the Russian Geographical Society.

– What is the result of the "Clean Games" during its existence?

The "Clean Games" were held in six countries, in more than 200 cities during four years of the existence of the project. The event was attended by nearly 32,000 participants, collecting more than 630 tons of garbage. More than half of the waste was recycled. The result of 2018 was the receipt of two important awards: the best environmental volunteer project in the "Volunteer Year" contest and the award of the Russian Geographical Society. Another noticeable event was my speech at the State Council of the Russian Federation on December 27.

Did local authorities, large organizations address you for indication of a particular place for carrying out the next game, or do you always choose all by yourself where it will take place?

We work with ministries, regional and federal municipal institutions. Local authorities know about our every game and they support it as much as they can. We always listen to the recommendations when choosing a place to hold games. However, we have certain criteria that depend on the scale of the event. Not every place is applicable for 200 participants. Also we work with the business on the terms of the sponsorship of games or we hold corporate games for them. However, there are exceptions. For example, we will not hold public games with an alcohol or tobacco brand, but we can organize a corporate event for them.


Photo is provided by founders of the "Clean Games" project
Photo is provided by founders of the "Clean Games" project

How do people respond to the "Clean Games"? Where do you gather the participants? How do they know about you?

– People respond very positively. Even new members, who do not have information about our project, come with a specific motivation. Most often, beginners know the venue of the games or they occasionally happen to be there. Participants are looking for games everywhere. We are active in all social networks, we have an easy handling website. People learn about upcoming games from the media, public pages and thematic eco-communities. Of course, coordinators need to understand the basic organizational principles to collect even 100 participants per game. Just for this, all coordinators study according to our methodology.

We believe that the main value of the project is not the “Clean Games” themselves, but the people they help us to find in Russia and around the world.

– Could you tell about the most memorable games since the begining of the project?

– The most unexpected game took place in India. We were very surprised because no one knew about that game at the moment of its holding. We found out about it just when it had been already held by our friend, who now lives in India and works there as a teacher. So our first international game was organized for Indian schoolchildren.

The most productive game was held in the city of Kumertau (the Republic of Bashkortostan). 314 people were divided into 82 teams and they collected 2382 bags of garbage. There were 984 bags of plastic, 520 bags of mixed waste, 632 bags of glass, 246 bags of metal. All together its weight was 15.8 tons! At the moment this is the highest rate of the collected weight. The Gagarin Park and the adjacent forest belt were chosen as the place for waste collection. The competition was joined by the head of the urban district Boris Belyaev and the city administration, heads of large institutions and organizations.


Photo is provided by founders of the "Clean Games" project
Photo is provided by founders of the "Clean Games" project

– Have you checked if there new garbage appear after your ecoquests? Have you ever collected garbage in the same place twice?

The territory remains clean for some time after the game. But, unfortunately, garbage returns with time. That fact confirms the well-known theory of broken windows. Periodically, the games take place in the same places. Often the appearence of new garbage could be explained due to the fact that in certain places there are not enough garbage cans.

Broken Windows Theory

Broken windows theory was originally formulated for criminology by sociologists James Wilson and George Kellin. It is about all aspects of our life. A typical example of its action, that was given by the authors of the theory:

If one glass is broken in the building and no one replaces it, then after a while there will not be a single window in this building.

In other words, clear signs of disorder and non-compliance with accepted norms of behavior by people provoke others to forget the rules too. As a result of the chain reaction, a “decent” urban area can quickly turn into a cesspool, where people are afraid to go outside.
The psychological mechanism of such provocation at the household level is illustrated by the phrase: "If others do it, why should not I do the same?"


Photo is provided by founders of the "Clean Games" project
Photo is provided by founders of the "Clean Games" project

What the most unusual "artifacts" did you find during the games?

Interesting artifacts are an integral part of the game. The course of action is very simple. Each participant, who has found an interesting item, brings it to the warehouse, where the "buyer" (volunteer) evaluates its value in points. The more interesting subject and the story about it, the more points. Sometimes there is a special artifact contest during the games. At the end of the game, all teams come together, tell their stories again about subjects, and after voting the winner is chosen, who receives a super prize.

Recently, the most interesting items we collect in the "museum" located in our office. We also think about organizing the exhibition someday. Among the subjects are a vinyl record player, old furniture, Soviet toys, children's bicycles and antique crockery.

– Who has already adopted the "Clean Games"?

Other cities has interested in project in 2015: there were a lot of requests to tell how to hold the game. So, a franchise was born in the "Clean Games". Firstly, we even thought about trying to monetize it in order to invest the money in the development of the project, but soon we came to the understanding that in this format it would not work. Then we decided to assume all the costs of creating the methodology, its maintenance and distribution. Since then, the "Clean Games" nonprofit franchise has been distributed worldwide, but we are signing an agreement with all the new coordinators.


Photo is provided by founders of the "Clean Games" project
Photo is provided by founders of the "Clean Games" project

Why do you think people participate in this project? Why do they enjoy the process of garbage collection?

People are attracted by the non-standard course of action. The "Clean Games" is an alternative pastime with benefits for the society in the company of friends and associates. We have a cool website and mobile app. There are programmes that collect statistics in real-time for each game. The number of collected bags and separate garbage: glass, plastic, metal, batteries and tires. People come to compete, every game is a competition between teams. We always award winners with gifts and prizes. Their cost depends on the number of participants in the game (50-300 participants) and sponsors. At the games they are awarded with diplomas, souvenirs of the "Clean Games" (badges, T-shirts), certificates from partners for a free trip somewhere, discounts to shops, themed eco-products (bottles, filters).

But honestly, people don't participate because of prizes at all. They like to do something good and see the results of their work. I think, the "Clean Games" can become a new national idea in the scale of the country.

How did you respond to receiving the RGs Award?

Receiving the RGS Award was a surprise for me. Firstly, we suddenly hit the shortlist. We were not invited to the rehearsal, I thought that we would not become prize-winners and would not receive the award. But closer to the point, at the awards ceremony, when we were sitting down to table, I began to suspect something. This is a happy occasion for me. The ceremony was attended by  serious and respected people, such as the President of the Russian Federation. And I made a speech in this room - I was shocked.

– What is the future of the "Clean Games"?

– I think, the "Clean Games" should become an international project, come to 70% of all countries on the planet. Thus, the large community of organizers will be created. People who engage others in environmental volunteering are interested in environmental education, environmental enlightment. In this international community, as we already see now in Russia, important activities could be held: the exchange of experience, news, knowledge and the best solutions. Thus, we can create a significant international community with the help of a volunteer product such as the “Clean Games”. We will be able to increase the greening of everything: the population of these countries, the greening of business and government. All that is posible with the help of communities like ours, that will grow and multiply.

Is it possible to commercialize the “Clean Games” or it will be destructive to the ideology of the project?

The "Clean Games" is a technique that is distributed for free around the world. However, the organization of major events, training webinars, the development of the IT platform (website and mobile application), the maintenance and distribution of non-profit franchises, operating activities (bookkeeping, special projects, office rent, etc.) need money. At the moment, the "Clean Games" are funded by municipal contracts, grants, corporate orders, sponsorship contracts, sometimes by crowdfunding. We spend the received money on carrying out the next "Clean Games".

What is the fate of the garbage after you collect it?

Each game is coordinated with the local administration, a contract for garbage collection is concluded. Separate garbage is also taken away if there is an agreement with those who accept it. This is usually not a problem in large cities, there are companies that are engaged in separate collection. If there are no companies responsible for separate garbage collection in the city yet, and it is not possible to agree with the neighboring cities, than all the garbage is sent to a common landfill. In this case, we warn all participants that the separate gathering are held for educational purposes.


Photo is provided by founders of the "Clean Games" project
Photo is provided by founders of the "Clean Games" project

– Does any celebrity support you?

The Russian Geographical Society invited Viktor Bychkov at the very first game. He is known to many for the role of Kuzmich in the film "Peculiarities of the National Hunt". Periodically famous people take part in games or support in informational way. So, Alexey Kortnev, Nonna Grishaeva, Egor Beroev participated in the games. Zhenya Lyubich supported the project in social networks. One game was held under the personal control of Sergei Kiriyenko.