Environment Minister Alex Attwood braved biting cold to launch the Belfast Telegraph's Big Spring Clean campaign on the steps of Stormont.
The newspaper has teamed up with Tidy Northern Ireland in a bid to inspire 50,000 people across Northern Ireland to roll up their sleeves this spring and clean up their local area.
Last April 26,479 volunteers took part in the Big Spring Clean, donating 43,038 hours of their own time to collect 27,258 bags of rubbish from towns, countryside and beaches – which weighed in at an incredible 164 tonnes.
This year we're attempting to double those numbers – and make Northern Ireland a place to be proud of.
Last night Belfast Telegraph editor Mike Gilson urged potential volunteers to tackle litter hotspots across Northern ireland by organising their own clean-ups or joining others through the Big Spring Clean website at www.bigspringcleanni.org.
"We're delighted to be involved in the Big Spring Clean again. As a newspaper we want to be backing positive action that makes our community's quality of life better and we are certain we are going to be bigger and better than last year – no excuses!" he said.
Tidy Northern Ireland chief executive Dr Ian Humphreys said the need for the campaign has never been greater, with one in 10 of our streets still failing cleanliness standards and more than £38m of ratepayers' cash being spent on street cleansing.
"Litter also has huge environmental costs and results in injury to farm animals from broken glass, blocking of waterways leading to pollution and the all too common loss of marine life through ingestion of plastic and entanglement," he said.
"Yet, as always, people are responding in their thousands in our hour of need. Such is the rising tide of people getting involved in this month of activity that we fully expect 50,000 people to go out and help in this year's Big Spring Clean."
Launching the drive, the Environment Minister said there has been a big leap forward in the last 10 years, with almost 40% of municipal waste now being recycled.
"I think consciousness around climate issues and waste issues is growing," said Mr Attwood.
"People here are scaling up their ambition over what they do with waste, how they recycle, and there is a growing popular movement towards better waste management.
"The more that we are clean, green and tidy, the more the quality of our lives is enhanced.
"It's about getting people to realise the more we are tidy, clean and green, the better we are in inviting people to come here. Eighteen months ago there wasn't even a conversation going on about whether to have a beach litter strategy – now we have one."
Joining in the Big Spring Clean is easy. All you need to do is register an event or join an existing event online at www.bigspringcleanni.org, order your free clean-up kit and get stuck in. Don’t forget to tell us how successful your event was afterwards. Your local council will help by supplying additional kit and will collect the rubbish gathered. The website has your council’s contact details to co-ordinate this. For more information, check out the website, email firstname.lastname@example.org or, if you are not on the internet, contact Tidy Northern Ireland directly on 028 9073 6920.