Interview: Giordano Margaglio – Ostia Clean up, by Martina Forbicini

Who is Giordano Margaglio? Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Sure! I’m currently based in Istanbul, Turkey, where I’m working as a Disaster Risk Management and Climate Change contractor with the United Nations Development Program. We’re currently developing multiple projects related to COVID-19, earthquakes, natural hazards, business recovery, and climate change, it’s all very exciting! I started this professional career last November, after graduating with a B.A. in Global Governance at Rome Tor Vergata University and an M.Sc. In Disaster Risk Management & Climate Change Adaptation at Lund University, in Sweden.

In parallel, I’m the co-founder and team leader of Ostia Clean-Up, a hub for young environmentalists who propose innovative solutions to the fight against plastic pollution and climate change; as well as of another project providing free disaster management training to Syrian refugees in Istanbul.

  1. How did you come up with the idea of Ostia Clean-Up?

The idea of Ostia Clean-Up first started in the fall of 2018, when I spent some time in the north of Sumatra, Indonesia, working as an intern at the Tsunami and Disaster Mitigation Research Center. Besides the missions on the islands and the standard operational tasks, once a month we used to organize clean-ups on beaches of Banda Aceh – the city where I used to live – to collect the tons of garbage being daily washed on the shore, and to raise awareness about the current environmental crisis within the local community. There, the plastic pollution problem was so serious that in some coastal areas it was even impossible to spot the sand for the ridiculous amount of waste sitting on top of it.

Although the situation in Rome was not as bad, upon my return to Italy I decided to treasure what I had learned in Indonesia and – with the help of two friends – develop it further within our local community. That’s how Ostia Clean-Up was born.

  1. Which is the biggest challenge you have faced (or you are facing) since setting up the organization?

When we first started organizing clean-ups, people joined spontaneously bringing a lot of enthusiasm and helping us overcome the different challenges stemming from our little expertise in this field. These included understanding the type of equipment needed, obtaining the authorization from the local municipality, finding an agreement with the waste collection company, and so on. Unfortunately, bureaucracy in Italy is very time and energy-consuming, as it is extremely hard to understand how to do administrative procedures work, especially for volunteering. This has definitely been the biggest challenge.

Over time, after gaining some experience, we learned to do things faster and better. Besides, our team grew from 3 to 11 young, motivated, and skillful people, bringing additional expertise and value to the association. Teamwork, synergy, and task division allowed us to get involved in different activities, such as environmental workshops in high schools and companies, social events, and partnerships with different local and international organizations. Networking and relying on external support accelerated our learning process and made it easier the overcome any hurdle on our path.

  1. Which kind of reactions/feedbacks has Ostia Clean Up received?

The response we received from the local community has been extremely positive. As I previously said, things at the beginning went very smoothly and spontaneously. It became apparent for us that in a time in which people started gaining major awareness about the current ecological crisis, they were sort of waiting for input like ours to get a chance to actively participate and support firsthand the new environmental wave triggered by Greta Thunberg and Fridays for Future.

We have also received critics by people who believe this is not our responsibility, but the municipalities. To be frank, they do have a point, but our actions are also a protest for the lack of a comprehensive sustainability plan from the current administration, as well as for informing as many people as possible on the dangers future generations are going to face. We believe the only way we’ll be able to survive and thrive as a species is through collaboration and solidarity. If we want to overcome a massive challenge such as climate change, each one of us needs to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem.

  1. In your opinion, which role does youth play in raising awareness about environmental issues?

I often hear people blaming older generations for diving into unrestrained economic production, uncontrolled carbon emissions and usage of single-use plastics, without thinking about the consequences for the planet: “they should thus be the ones responsible for making up for their mistakes”.

I personally disagree with this idea. Although it may be partially true that too many people were initially short-sighted or uninterested about these matters, one key principle that Disaster Risk Management taught me is that scapegoating is most times utterly useless and nonconstructive. Rather, we shall be thinking about how to make things better, and most importantly how can we leave our children a better planet than the one we inherited from our parents. And that’s exactly why I believe the youth has the energy, creativity, inspiration, knowledge, skills, and tools to translate such idea into reality. Furthermore, I also believe our responsibility goes far beyond simply “raising awareness”. Teenagers of today are going to be politicians and decision-makers of tomorrow, so informing and educating is certainly a first key step. However, time is quickly running out. That’s the reason why raising awareness needs to be coupled with prompt climate action, raging protests, and constructive innovation towards a common sustainable vision.

  1. Looking back at when you started the movement, is there something you would do differently?

Not really. I’m not happy with every decision we took in the first few months, but it’s thanks to those mistakes that we could quickly learn best practices, identify opportunities, and most importantly realize who could we or could we not trust.

  1. What’s next for you and Ostia Clean-Up?

Personally, I’ll keep working with UNDP in Istanbul and hopefully develop interesting projects on natural hazards and climate. Over this summer, I’ll be also participating with the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT Climate KIC) to a program named “The Journey”, over which 400 young change-makers will come together to develop ideas on the environment and sustainability. This is a great chance for driving climate action with the support of experts and coaches, as well as for networking with hundreds of motivated students and young professionals. I really recommend anybody interested in these subjects to apply for the program next year!

As far as Ostia Clean-Up is concerned, we had to put – like everybody else – a stop on all our activities for the past few months. We’ve decided to use this summer to reorganize our resources, prepare an action plan in line with the new COVID-19 regulations, and apply for a few grants that might endow our vision. Besides clean-ups and environmental workshops, we also have a few creative ideas we would like to test out in the fall to expand our expertise and scale up change on a broader level. No spoilers!

  1. Which advice would you give to young people like you who want to be more active in environmental protection?

Whenever people ask me how can they start being more “environmentally active”, the first thing I say is that everything starts off with information. Read books, watch documentaries, talk to experts, attend webinars, join debates. The information raises awareness, and awareness is the fuel of environmental action. Look around you, see who’s taking the lead in defending the planet in your community, and connect with them to join their activities. If nobody is currently doing that, then create your own team! Using the support of national and international networks, today’s easier than ever to receive guidance and mentorship to boost change at the local level. If you identify a problem and propose a feasible and simple solution to solve it, people will naturally follow. Do not ever be scared to take the lead,

In case you would like to collaborate or have a talk on these matters, feel free to email me at giordano.margaglio@hotmail.it!

“It’s thrilling to see Giordano’s excitement and involvement for the environmental cause. His achievements show us that we can actually change things. Even if we’re young. Even if it seems kind of crazy.

Good luck with everything!

Martina Forbicini”


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