How to organize a beach clean-up

Elaine Tu on Jul 18th 2019

It’s no secret that plastic is basically the enemy of all species--especially to the ocean--and here’s one way to help: a beach clean-up. Plastic has an effect on everyone, it’s found in 62% of all seabirds, 100% of all turtles, and guess what? It’s in the fish we eat too, so chances are we’ve ingested quite a bit of plastic over the years.

A beach clean-up is not only a great way to clean your local beach or waterway to prevent more plastic and other waste from entering the ocean, but it’s also a way to get others involved and to spread awareness about the effects of single-use plastic consumption on our planet, a way to educate others about proper recycling techniques, and to encourage everyone to reduce their consumption of single-use plastic. Here’s how you can do all that:

Choose a location

Whether it’s a beach, lake, or river, cleaning up litter around waterways prevents more of it from ending up in the ocean--so you don’t have to be in a coastal city to do your part. The location can be anywhere you frequent or a popular destination among the locals. Your community will thank you for it--and so will marine life!

Promote on social media

Keep your event organized by creating an event page on Facebook. You can set the page to “Public” and invite your friends and family to share your event with their friends, friends of friends, and the sharing continues!

  • When should I start promoting my event? Do this a month or two in advance to ensure that people can make time for it in their calendars, but not too much earlier where people forget about it! The key to a great turn out is how much buzz you can create.
  • How do I write the description? Make sure the description of the event gets people excited to join your event. State why you decided to do a beach clean-up and how it benefits our Earth. Educate your fellow humans on the environmental and social impact this clean-up will have and how it will benefit us all. Also, include details on the event page for what to bring, what supplies people can donate, and anything else people might find helpful! You can take this opportunity to drop some stats too so that people know what the issue is and how this particular clean-up will help!
  • How do I promote my event? Invite friends and family to participate, spread the word, or donate money to the event. Sometimes people have prior engagements and can’t make it to the event, or don’t have the capacity to make it out to the location, but people are more willing to help than you may think! Encourage people to (at the very least) share the event so that it reaches people who can show up and are happy to help the clean-up! You can also offer an option for people to donate supplies for the clean-up, hauling services, or even donate money to purchase supplies and to cover other expenses the clean-up might entail.
  • What other ways are there to promote my event? In addition to Facebook, promote your event on any and all other channels as well! Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, Reddit, Twitch--anywhere. A unique hashtag for the event will also help you generate buzz and help build recognition between channels. Have a graphic design friend or have some design skills yourself? Create some awesome graphics to help spread the word. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words! Videos? Even better.

Practice proper waste disposal

Have designated bags for trash, glass, plastic, cans, scrap metals, etc. (educate participants on what goes where!). It might be helpful to distribute a digital cheat sheet of the types of waste people might find, where they go and where to put them. You might even want to have someone who knows the waste disposal system pretty well to help others figure out where to put their items. This will help minimize any incorrect disposals that may jam up the recycling process and cause problems for the waste management facility.

Recyclables, liquids, compost, hazardous materials, scrap metal, and landfill waste must be organized into separate bins. Plan ahead so you have a good system in place that won’t get confusing over time.

We can’t stress the importance of proper waste disposal enough! This is the perfect opportunity to educate people on how to recycle properly since this applies to how they recycle at home as well. What your local waste management company is able to take varies by location so be sure to check with them before you hold your event.

Helpful contacts

If this is your first time putting together an event, remember--you’re not alone! Leverage your friends and family who are as passionate about this cause as you are and seek out help from others! Here are some helpful groups of people to reach out to that can provide some guidance and support for your beach clean-up:

Local park rangers

For any medium-sized or large event, it’s always a good idea to make sure that law enforcement gets a heads-up. There might be supplies you were thinking about bringing that isn’t allowed. Local park rangers are the perfect people to ask questions about where to park, how to get there, the best routes to use for efficiently disposing of waste, whether or not there are dumpsters nearby or if you’d have to use a hauling service to take the collected waste to a nearby waste management facility.

Local waste management facility

It’s very important to educate your volunteers about proper recycling procedure and what goes where. Did you know that plastic toothbrushes are not recyclable? It’s because they have nylon bristles attached to them. The goal here is to be able to minimize the number of items that go into the landfill by filtering out recyclables and delivering them to the proper recycling facilities. However, some things do have to go to the landfill, and your local waste management facility will be able to tell you what goes where.

Municipality

It does take a bit of leg work, coordinating, and money to haul litter away and the waste management facility does charge for its services as well. Sometimes, the city will want to step in to provide some help taking care of these types of expenses and provide hauling services as a courtesy for the cleanup. Compose a professional email detailing your event and what your goals are, how it will benefit the community, and how big of a turnout you expect. It might also be helpful to provide some images of the location you are planning to hold the clean-up. Don’t forget to provide your own contact information and the event page so city employees have a lot of information to base their decision on!

Monetary donations

If you’re doing this right, you might have some monetary donations coming your way. Now, you don’t want to just have people Venmo or Paypal you because that might get a little messy. Instead, set up a fundraising option on Facebook, GoFundme, or another fundraising site to keep the total amount separate from your personal banking account. It’s also good practice to keep things transparent for your supporters by doing so.

What to do with that money?

For starters, you should check to see if you have enough supplies--if not, you could use the money to buy some for the clean-up (and plan to use them again for future clean-ups). If you were able to get enough supplies donated, you could use the money to cover the costs of hauling services or the fees for waste management and recycling facilities if applicable. If these are all covered (woohoo!), it might be nice to treat volunteers to some food (for example, from a local sandwich shop), or donate the money to the Ocean Conservancy or other environmental nonprofits focused on cleaning up our oceans!

Supplies you might need

  • Water for the volunteers - this is a must. people are taking time out of their days to help clean the area, and it’s important to make sure everyone stays hydrated. Encourage your volunteers to bring their own reusable water bottle to reduce single-use plastic waste from plastic water bottles. Although it is more convenient, we don’t want more trash on top of the trash we’re picking up, right? Remind your participants a few days before the event to bring their reusable water bottles. Provide large containers of water where participants can fill up and compostable cups for those who don’t have reusable bottles.
  • First aid kit - always have one of these on hand for minor injuries like cuts or scrapes.
  • Try to use burlap (reusable), buckets, wagons or paper bags to collect the trash rather than plastic garbage bags to reduce plastic waste.
  • Trash grabbers - Trash grabbers will help reduce fatigue from bending over and picking up trash. These can also be a little safer than grabbing something with your hands.
  • Thick gloves - If you don’t have trash grabbers, the next best thing is a pair of thick gloves to prevent cuts from broken glass and other potentially harmful litter.
  • Metal sifter or sieve - You can do a little DIY project or ask if anyone has this, but a metal sifter or sieve is perfect for finding smaller things in the sand or dirt that you might otherwise miss.

Safety Tips

  • Try to find a volunteer who knows basic first aid or has medical experience in case of an emergency.
  • To dispose of hazardous materials like broken glass or syringes, use wide mouth containers such as empty laundry detergent containers that are clearly marked as hazardous.
  • Make sure all participants are wearing close-toed shoes to prevent injury.
  • Use the sign-in sheet as a way to do a headcount at the beginning and end of the event to make sure no one has gone missing, especially if there will be children in attendance.
  • Remind volunteers to wear and bring reef-safe sunscreen (no matter if its sunny or cloudy outside); depending on the climate, you might want to advise participants to bring eco-friendly bug spray as well.
  • Brush up on what to do if you find beached marine life or other wildlife during your event. Let everyone know who to reach and to stay a few feet away until the appropriate people arrive.

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