This past Saturday marked World Environment Day, and in the spirit of the day, students and alumni from the Joint Master’s of Geography of Environment and Human Risk programme gathered in Bonn’s Rheinaue park to pick up trash.
The activity was first initiated by the UNU-MERIT Alumni Committee, who had already planned a clean-up in Maastricht for the occasion. It became a joint undertaking when they reached out to the master’s programme at UNU-EHS to organize an event in Bonn for the same day. From there, student representatives Lisa Hartmann, Angela Bungert and Christopher Ihinegbu mobilized their cohorts and alumni into action.
Finding motivated participants was not difficult, and with the date and time already set, the reps only had to choose the location and reach out to Bonn Orange, the city’s waste management and street cleaning agency, to provide them with gloves, trash bags and the location of the trash pick-up site.
“Angela, Christopher and I chose Rheinaue because it is a big green space and close to the UN campus. The rest was easy because Bonn Orange has a platform set up for such initiatives,” said Hartmann, who along with Ihinegbu represents the newest master’s cohort.
Despite the relative ease in mobilization, the students still had their work cut out for them at the park. In order to ensure COVID-19 protocols were met, the twenty participants met at separate meeting points and were restricted to working in pairs. Then, with gloves, masks and trash bags in hand, they worked their way across the park, removing what trash they could.
The park was relatively clean, but the participants still found a considerable amount of garbage to pick up. They got their hands dirty as they weaved across the park’s fields and in and out of its wooded areas. Single-use items like tissues, FFP-2 masks and plastic cutlery were the common culprits. Near the banks of the Rhine River, more bottles, tinfoil for barbequing and even boating equipment appeared.
The proximity of the trash to the river was enough of a reminder of the importance of the work they were doing. “One wave or a day of heavy rain is enough to suck trash into the river. We see this with flooding when after the water subsides you can see what was in the river. When you look at the shore, the meadows and the paths of the park, it is not hard to imagine how it ends up in the river,” said Hartmann.
While the students were making an impact with their hands, they were taking the opportunity to practically apply the subjects they are learning through the master’s programme. The theme of the day this year was ecosystem restoration, so they were able to draw connections to their current curriculum on ecosystem-based adaptation, nature-based solutions and urban green spaces.
“Rheinaue is an important space for Bonn. It acts as a floodplain for when the river rises and serves as a cool spot during the summer heat. Maintaining the quality of that nature-based solution, like picking up trash, can have a positive impact on well-being,” said Hartmann.
The day also carried special meaning to the programme’s newest cohort, who have had to learn online due to COVID-19 restrictions so far. The activity was one of the first occasions that some of the students were able to meet their fellow classmates in person.
“It was great for some of us to have our first meeting in a meaningful way and to do something together as a team. We had a chance to come together and do something we can be proud of,” said Hartmann. “In just two hours we made an impact.”
More information on the International Joint Master’s Programme in Geography of Environmental Risks and Human Security can be found here.