Participating in a community based litter clean up group has many great benefits. In addition to making an impact on the visible trash in the environment; cleanups are great ways to enjoy some sunshine, teach your children about littering, and to make or strengthen friendships. If you aren’t already participating in a community cleanup, they are easy to start and a great way to meet new people or build upon the relationships between those in community organizations you are already involved in. Here are some tips to making your own community clean up teams experience a successful one that will last for years to come.
When it comes to the issues of pollution, there are already a wide number of agencies in your community who are fighting the problem and they are just waiting for you to reach out and contact them. The first place you contact will probably be the only one you have to reach out to. Start with your towns park district office or other natural spaces office. These government entities are dependent on volunteers to assist with many community tasks like maintaining parks, bike paths and trails. Without the hundreds of thousands of hours volunteers give annually across the country, guests and frequent users would find these areas in a significantly different condition. One added bonus of working with these groups is that there are often volunteer appreciation events on an annual basis or other perks like passes into zoo’s or museums based on the number of volunteer hours. More importantly, your local park district is likely to have the materials you will need to organize a monthly cleaning event, thing like garbage bags and trash grabbers, to be used free of charge. Many organized administrators may also have their district mapped out by area so that no one group is cleaning an area that was just cleaned the day before by a different group. They will also likely send paid staff out to collect the bags of debris collected so that your efforts are not wasted by animals opening bags searching for food. Many agencies will also ask for a total of hours volunteered for statistical purposes.
When it comes to planning a clean up, being organized is very important. If partnering with an agency like the EPA, they may have scientific data to be gathered to assist in their continuing efforts to identify areas which need greater oversight and assistance. Such scientific data often includes specifics like, how many aluminum cans, cigarette butts or plastic particles of debris were collected. Plan on separating the debris by recyclable and non recyclable materials. Also make sure your partner organization knows when you are having your clean up so that they can come and remove the debris that is collected. Having a plan in advance of a team gathering will be especially important. Identifying how many persons will be needed and their roles can help in recruiting to ensure that there are plenty of people to make the work load light. Additionally, individuals who may not be able to physically bend and pick up human debris may be encouraged to come if they understand that there are different roles like data collection or event photographer to be filled. Photographing your cleanups is always a great way to share the wonderful work your group is doing and at some annual volunteer gatherings photos of groups in action may be shared before or during the thank you ceremonies.
Other areas of organization should include – verifying the location, having adequate gloves, waste bags and garbage grabbers for those who will need them; having a map of the area to be cleaned and setting time limits. If your group is going for monthly cleanups, setting a limit – generally 2 hours – will encourage repeat volunteers. It can be easy to focus on the total amount of waste in an area, by setting time limits you help minimize the risk of burnout. By sticking to your planned area and knowing that your group has done it’s part a sense of pride will be felt by all. If there is more than your group can manage within it’s set time, there is always the opportunity to invite friends join in and cover more ground at future events. It is also important to remember to provide an option for post clean up fraternization. Finding a monthly community event like an art walk, or grabbing refreshments at a local favorite provides time for both talking about the action ( cleanup ) and strengthening bonds between participants. This will be a reinforcement that builds repeat volunteers and often encourages them to bring a friend next time.
Besides likes and loves of photographs, social media can be a powerful tool in many ways. Social media allows for volunteers to find and share pictures of their wonderful experience so that friends and family will consider both the act of cleaning up after others and thinking twice about littering in the first place. Additionally, tech savvy volunteers will not only register for clean ups, but they can also take advantage of such features such as sharing and saving the event in their personal calendars so that they get a reminder on the day of that they have something important to do like help protect the planet they love so much! Making a page for your group can also be a fun way to stay in touch about the global issue and solutions others are creating to fight the problem. Make sure one of your volunteers is dedicated to catching people in the act of cleaning up, as well as taking photographs of the total amount of waste being collected. Group photo’s are also an important way to show how much effort goes into keeping protecting the nature we love. In time you may be able to use your groups photos to generate business support such as free or discounted food at your local gathering place or to ensure important grant funding for agencies like your park district who need it very much or placing infrastructure like recycling bins where they can do the most good.
I hope these three tips will be helpful in getting your group started in this important community responsibility, taking care of the world around us! Pride in picking up is a great way to build community, get some exercise and make a difference in the world around you.
You can learn more about the need to clean plastic and other trash from these great websites: