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30 Most Inspiring Leaders to Watch 2021

‘Our goal is to get litter out of nature in an easy and fun way’: Alex van Eck, Founder of Enjoy Cleaning Up

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“No waste of time, no time to waste.”

If you own a dog, you know how often you're outside on walks. And chances of you encountering plenty of litter while out with your pup — regardless of if you live in the city or the suburbs are really high. Animals are innocent victims affected by litter every day. It is time for us to take a proactive approach to stop littering and create a safer environment for every organism on this planet. Cleaning up your community is not only beneficial to the environment but will make your community beautiful. And it would be fun if your paw friend joins you while doing this.

Yes, you heard it right. Your pets helping you pick up trash is fascinating, and this is what "Joy", the Chocolate Labrador and his owner, Alex van Eck, are doing through their Enjoy Cleaning Up, a nonprofit based in the Netherlands. They are on a mission to make the world a cleaner place and are making a difference—one piece of trash at a time.

Alex van Eck, Founder of Enjoy Cleaning Up Spoke Exclusively to The Silicon Review. Below is an excerpt

Q. Tell us what inspired the creation of Enjoy Cleaning Up.

In 2016, when I, along with my friends, was diving in Curaçao, I noticed the beautiful island filled with trash than coral or fish on the sides. Also, the coast was heavily polluted. This was when I decided to do my part and bring about a change. This led to the birth of our NGO, Enjoy Cleaning Up, as a battle against waste. Together with my brown Labrador Joy, we try to inspire others in a positive way to start cleaning and telling a story in a fun way.

Joy is trained to search for litter waste. I always wanted to tell a story about preserving the world, but in a positive way, and Joy was perfect for doing so. I, along with Joy, began an Instagram page (Enjoycleaningup) and started telling people about our adventures. It all started small, but today our page has over 70,000 followers, and I feel it is a perfect way to inspire others worldwide through our story. Also, the NGO counts 500 ambassadors around the world in 12 countries!

Q. What is the primary goal of Enjoy Cleaning Up?

Our goal is to get litter out of nature in an easy and fun way. We hope that every dog owner in the world will join this movement, and we encourage all dog owners to pick up one piece of litter while walking their dogs. For instance, in the Netherlands, we have more than two million dogs that go out for a walk at least four times a day. If each dog owner tries to pick up one piece of trash, we can collect around eight million pieces every day.

“I always wanted to tell a story about preserving the world, but in a positive way, and ‘Joy’ was perfect for doing so.”

Q. What strategies are in place to encourage innovation at Enjoy Cleaning Up?

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Enjoy Cleaning Up organizes clean-up activities with dogs and hopes that as many people and quadrupeds as possible will follow that example. A clean-up is fun and a perfect way to meet new people, especially those who feel uncomfortable communicating with strangers. The reason is that when there is a clean-up, we will split up into small groups. There, one can start cleaning up while starting a conversation with their teammates. We help people get over their loneliness through this social entrepreneurship by letting them work with others on a cleaner environment, which is why we call it—enjoy-cleaning-up.

And do you know what the fun part is? You and your dog can join this mission!

This is how it works:

  • Train your dog to pick up plastic bottles, tin cans, or drinking suits. You can teach this yourself or go to a local dog school, which gives this special litter training. You can find which dog schools give these special training for picking up litter on our website (https://enjoycleaningup.com/).
  • Once the training part is done, let's get to work. Take a bag or a bucket to collect litter, together with your dog.
  • Sign up your "garbage collector" using our website and make your dog a local hero to inspire others. On this website, you can also find which clean-ups are being organized.
  • If you have a trained dog to pick up litter, tag us on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #enjoycleaningup. Cleaning up gets fun with Enjoy Cleaning Up.

Q. What do you think is the most memorable moment in your career?

The visit to our Prime Minister Marc Rutte for a demonstration with Joy was very special.

Besides, there is another moment where we encountered a big group of children/young adults who were littering and polluting. I was a bit afraid about the confrontation, so I didn't say anything and let Joy do her thing. Joy started cleaning up the trash littered by this group by bringing the bottles to me. After few minutes, one of the group members approached me with a question about the dog and the purpose of her backpack. It all ended in a spontaneous clean-up with the whole group and I being excited from the beginning until the end of this cleaning process.

Q. If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?

Just start cleaning. It may not be your trash, but it is your world, after all. Every time you pick up a piece, you know for a fact that no animal is hurt or dying because of it. So every piece of trash you pick counts.

Q. What does the future hold for your company? Are exciting things on the way?

Yes, for sure! Later this year, we will make an attempt to break a world record along with Pets Place by training the biggest group of dogs. We will, of course, train the dogs to fetch and clean up litter on command.

The Visionary Leader Upfront

Alex van Eck is the founder of Enjoy Cleaning Up. He is a proud owner of three dogs, and his whole family, including the dogs, is helping Enjoy Cleaning Up grow further. The NGO currently has 25 volunteers and 500 ambassadors across the world. Alex is married and a father of two sons.

“Just start cleaning. It may not be your trash, but it is your world, after all. Every time you pick up a piece, you know for a fact that no animal is hurt or dying because of it. So every piece of trash you pick counts.”