Beach clean-up as a practical implementation of ESD: effects in students’ knowledge, awareness and behavioural intentions

ESD = Education for Sustainable Development

In November 2018, during the Italian UNESCO week for ESD with the main topic “moving away from plastics: a path to be built”, a group of students of a local middle school (10-13 yo) participated in a beach clean-up in Minori after following a lecture on marine ocean pollution. Our trainee Carla Cecconi, who had had the idea of this project, implemented a questionnaire on beach litter and self-reported behaviour which was given to the students before and after the activity. She later analyzed the questionnaire’s results as well as the project’s outcomes in her master’s thesis.

The questionnaire was distributed to the students participating in the clean-up as well as to another group of students (same age, from another local middle school) who had only followed the lecture on ocean pollution. The main findings in the research included that the group that had participated in the clean-up increased their knowledge (about trash at the beach harming marine life) and awareness towards pollution (finding trash at the beach), as well as their willingness to participate in another beach-clean-up (from 49% increased to 73%), in comparison to the group which only received a lecture (increased from 37% to 42%). They indicated to be more willing to pick up trash they find on the beach (20% against 5% in the other group said they always pick it up). Both groups had a large number of participants indicating they take their own trash with them when on the beach (67% against 71%). This indicates that the inclusion of non-scholar activities in ESD programs could contribute to a behavioural change towards sustainability, and therefore a reduction of plastic pollution.


Interpretation of the results

Participating in a beach clean-up increased the students’ knowledge about trash at the beach killing marine life, as well as their awareness of the trash present at the beach.

It increased the students’ willingness of participating in another future beach clean-up, but also to pick up trash they find on the beach. Students are though more likely to take their own trash to the garbage bin rather than the trash produced by someone else.  But the two groups also had some different characteristics: the one involved in the beach clean-up was composed out of students of a school in Minori, which is situated on the beach, the other group was made out of Tramonti students. Tramonti being situated in the mountains, it is possible that the students are less connected to the beach and feel less responsible for keeping it clean.


What do we need this kind of activity for?

As a threat for biodiversity, about eight million tons of plastic enter the oceans every year. In order to reduce plastic production and consumption, citizens can modify their behaviour. Education has an influence on modifying behaviour towards more sustainable practices.

ESD programs are usually set within the walls of the school, therefore, the students are isolated from the real sustainability issues of their communities. To make the ESD program more effective, the students must learn by doing through direct experiences connecting them to nature.

Participating in a beach clean-up increased the students’ knowledge, awareness and willingness to participate in this type of activity. These three factors form the base for a behavioural change. Marine ocean pollution could therefore be tackled through an ESD program that includes a combination of classroom-based lectures and beach clean-ups. A beach clean-up or other outdoors and in-nature activities in the school curricula may have develop a pro-environmental behaviour.


In this post, we had talked about the beach clean-up in 2018:

For more detailed information, you can find Carla’s thesis under the following link: