This small act of service can make a huge difference
Have you ever been walking through your favorite park or beach and felt disheartened after seeing a ton of trash everywhere? Want to do something about it but don't know where to start? If you have ever wanted to organize an outdoor cleanup, but don't know how to do it, we got you covered! We have created a guide with all of the steps and materials you need to put together a successful event. So instead of just getting depressed after watching the newest environmental documentary, get outside and make a real impact!
Why organize a cleanup?
Doing an outdoor cleanup can be a great way to connect with your community and do some good for the environment. There is a lot of trash in the world that ends up on our streets and eventually ends up in our oceans. It is estimated that between 4.7 and 12.7 million tons of plastic waste ends up in our ocean each year and it comes directly from land sources like litter (2). These plastics then break down into microplastics and cause a lot of damage for many years to come. Organizing a trash clean up can be a great way to mitigate this issue! An international organization, the Ocean Conservancy, hosts coastal cleanups all around the world and in 2019 they collected over 20 million tons of trash from around the world (1). These cleanups can range from just a few people to thousands, which means that any action is a positive one! Clean ups are also a super kid friendly activity and are a great way to start teaching them about the environment and how to care for it. So if you have been thinking about putting together a trash clean up with a few of your closest friends or with your entire community, now is the time to do it and keep reading to figure out how!
It can be very daunting to plan an event if you have no prior experience, but it's not as complicated as it seems. We have laid out all the steps you need to take to have a well planned and successful event!
1. Pick a place to clean up
Most likely you will already have a spot in mind that is covered in trash and has been bothering you for a couple of weeks. If that's not the case, picking places that a lot of people go to and use like beaches, parks, playgrounds, streets, and other highly trafficked areas are usually in need of a deep cleaning. When picking a place to do your event, check with your local municipality or local community officials by email or phone and ask them if a permit is required for that area. Usually groups of people under 10 don't require a permit or are much easier to obtain if they are required.
2. Assemble a planning team
Next you need to assemble a team to help you plan and organize your cleanup. You can choose anyone to be a part of your team like friends, coworkers, members of a club you're in, or even local environmental organizations or businesses! The team's job is to help you with all of the planning, communication, and organization of the event. Working with local businesses and organizations can be great because they can help do some of the planning, provide people, and/or resources. Partnering with others is a great way to reduce some of the heavy lifting off of you! Who you partner with will usually depend on the size of the clean up you are planning. If you're planning to host a larger clean up, you should definitely try to partner with a local business or community groups like the Surfrider Foundation, Pacific Beach Coalition, or the Ocean Conservancy which all specialize in organizing cleanups!
3. Set a date
Once your team is all set and planning has started, you need to decide on a date to hold your event. If you're hosting a larger event, choose a date that's pretty far in advance. Some aspects of organizing may take more time than you think and you don't want to be rushed. Also in regard to the specific day of the clean up, Saturdays are often the best day to plan for because most people don't work on Saturdays and are willing to give up at least a portion of their day to go outside and clean up the environment!
4. Spread the word
Once most of the planning is out of the way it's time to spread the word to your community and get people involved. You want to get the word out as early as possible so you give people ample time to plan and share it with their friends and family! Make sure to include the date, time, if they should bring any materials, where people should meet, what they should wear, if the event is kid friendly or not, and a few helpful tips like to bring sunscreen and a reusable water bottle. Also if you really want people to come, tell them there will be food! Great social media sites to share all of the event info are the Nextdoor app, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. You can also advertise offline by printing flyers and putting them around town or in local businesses, and asking the local paper or radio show to put an ad out.
Try to get as many people to RSVP as possible before the event so you know how much materials you will need to bring. Try putting a QR code or a link on the advertisements that takes people to a registration site (we like Google Forms) so they can easily RSVP.
5. Get materials
Important materials to have during your clean up include heavy duty gloves (try to stay away from plastic or latex that easily break), trash grabbers, trash bags, recycling bags, facemasks, and safety vests if you're going to be in an area with traffic. Other good items to have at your event are water coolers so people can fill up water and stay hydrated and food if people get hungry or as an incentive to come. There are a few different ways to cover the cost of these items. Your team can pay for all of the materials, you can ask volunteers to bring their own, or you can ask local businesses for a monetary donation or in-kind donation. Calling around to local hardware stores can also be a great way to get some free supplies! Always plan to bring extra supplies in case people forget to bring their own or they don't RSVP.
Lastly, but definitely most importantly, you need to organize a way for all of the trash to be taken away at the end! Unfortunately you can't just shove it in your neighbor's bin, but you can call your local waste management department and see if they are willing to make an extra pick up and take all of the trash. If there's only a small amount of trash to clean up at your site, you can load all of the trash bags and a volunteer could drive it to the dump. If those solutions don't work, call your local waste management center for help. They might know of other organizations that would be willing to come pick it up or have a recommendation for some inexpensive junk disposal companies.
6. Day of the event
The day has come where all of your planning and organizing has paid off and it's finally time to clean up some trash! First you want to make sure to get to the location early with all of your materials. We recommend the whole team gets there early to go over the game plan and to set everything up.
Depending on the size of your clean up and city/government rules, there are some important documents you should have on the day like a sign in sheet, liability waivers, and consent forms. If your event consists of just a few families or friends, you don't need this, but if it's a larger event we recommend you use them. A sign in sheet is super helpful to get people's names and contact information that you can use if you ever want to plan another cleanup or need to contact them for any reason. You also want to have liability waivers in case anything happens to a volunteer, check out an example of a waiver here. If you plan on doing any sort of promotion or sharing on social media with pictures, you should have people sign consent forms giving you permission to post pictures of them online. If you are really trying to get ahead of the game you can have people sign these documents when they RSVP for the event so you don't have to keep track of as much paperwork. But definitely bring extra forms just in case!
Once all of the documents are signed you can give people all of their materials and split them up. Let them know which section to clean and where to bring the full trash bags when they are done. Also be sure to tell everyone that if they see any hazardous or dangerous materials like knives, needles, drugs, or anything that could poke a hole through the bag or harm them, to not pick it up! That also goes for bulky hazardous items like car batteries, electronics, barrels, or anything else that is too big to be picked up safely by one person. Volunteers should alert the organizers to the location of any hazardous or dangerous items they find so the organizers can contact waste management for professional disposal.
With all of the environmental issues in the world it's easy to feel disheartened and powerless but you can make a huge difference in your community with your friends and neighbors. Clean ups bring together people of all different backgrounds allowing us to work together to solve an issue that affects everyone. It's also a great way to start a conversation about pollution and what collectively people can do together to make positive change. Doing the hard work of planning and organizing the clean up pales into comparison to the fulfillment and happiness you will feel once your community is clean and trash free. Give it a try!
- Schneider, F., Parsons, S., Clift, S., Stolte, A., & McManus, M. C. (2018). Collected marine litter—A growing waste challenge. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 128, 162–174. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2018.01.011