On a serene Saturday morning, volunteers gather atop a hill overlooking Limassol, their mission clear: to clean up the landscape they cherish. It has been organised by City Friends Limassol, a charity that’s been conducting cleanups like this one for over two years now.

As volunteers arrive, they’re greeted by a well-equipped setup complete with gloves, trash pickers, disinfectant, trash bags, water and even sunscreen. Safety is clearly paramount, with first aid kits on standby.

Newcomers receive brief tutorials on collecting and sorting refuse, while returning volunteers share warm embraces. Most of them are young people, some are there with children only a few years old.

Armed with garbage bags, gloves and trash pickers, volunteers are assigned sectors to clean. I listen as a father explains to his toddler son why the piece of trash he picked up goes in the PMD bag and not in the general waste bag.

“The goal is to motivate the new generation to care about their surroundings and the planet in general,” says operational director Natalia Mutovkina. “Instilling this ethos at a young age yields positive results,” she adds.

As Natalia continues to explain the organisation’s aims and goals, volunteers bring back bags filled with refuse to the top of the hill. “That’s an awful lot of trash,” I say – it’s not even been an hour and the bags are already accumulating. “This is just the beginning,” Natalia says, “this pile will more than double by the time we are finished today.”

And City Friends Limassol is prepared to manage the substantial volumes of garbage they gather.

“Currently, we have seven vehicles in our fleet dedicated to waste management,” says relationship & cleanup manager for City Friends Limassol Inga Topova. Among these vehicles is a garbage truck equipped with a compressor, tailored for the disposal of general waste. Additionally, the fleet includes a smaller refuse collector specifically designed for recyclable waste, as well as a large truck, replete with crane, for handling bulky waste items.

Complementing their collection of vehicles, City Friends Limassol employs a dedicated team of 15 full-time workers tasked with the vital mission of waste collection throughout the city.
Both volunteers and employees sort everything diligently so that it’s taken to the correct facility for further processing. The glass is melted down, the plastic is compacted into bales and shipped out of Cyprus. “Unfortunately, the island lacks the necessary infrastructure to recycle the plastic, that’s why it’s sent abroad,” says Inga.

Adjacent to the cleanup site, artist Emil Stasovskiy has crafted a statement piece: a sphere fashioned from paper mache, painted a resolute blue hue. Volunteers from the cleanup effort contribute to this evolving artwork by bringing forth crushed cans and discarded plastic bottles, which the artist adheres to the sphere’s surface. “The message I’m trying to convey here is that we only have one planet, we need to protect it,” Emil says earnestly. “We need to pay attention and reduce, reuse, and recycle.”

As the bags continue to pile up I can’t help but wonder what’s the most dangerous piece of trash the group has collected? Do volunteers ever come across something hazardous? Natalia tells me that beach and remote, out-of-the-way cleanups tend to yield the worst of the lot, “Hypodermic needles, used prophylactics, used underwear,” she trails off.

What about the most unusual? “We gathered an entire living room once,” Natalia says, “Couch, table, television, lamp, it was all there. We actually arranged it as if it were a living room and took a group photo there when the event concluded.”

“Unopened bottle of expensive wine,” chimes in Marat.

Marat is a seasoned volunteer who has been in Cyprus for over five years and has been a part of this initiative from almost the beginning; he is absolutely drenched in sweat but in high spirits.

He was there when City Friends Club brought in their largest haul of refuse from Fasoula green point area – a whopping 7.5 tons – “It was a horrific situation, this is what made me want to take action,” he says.

“Look around you, how many waste bins do you see?” There are none. “Is it any wonder there is so much rubbish around here?” he asks, wiping his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt.

All of the gathered refuse will be collected on Monday by the City Friends Limassol team.

As the event concludes, the hillside is transformed, a testament to the power of collective effort. Marat’s words linger in the air: “This is not in vain, every little bit helps, I think we are motivating the future generations to do better.”

And indeed, amid 122 bags of trash and 120kg of bulky waste the volunteers collected, this event is more than just trash collection; it’s a testament to community spirit and environmental stewardship.