How to plan an ocean or park clean-up in your community

Illustration of man picking up trash on the beach

Each summer, millions of people flock to beaches and parks to enjoy beautiful weather and good company. Unfortunately, a lot of trash is left behind. This trash doesn’t just interfere with our enjoyment of our public spaces, it contributes to the 8 million metric tons of trash and debris in our oceans, 80% of which comes from land-based activities. 

If you’re concerned about the amount of trash in your community, you can plan a cleanup project. Community-organized and -led park and beach cleanups are a great way to reduce waste and are now easier to plan than ever!  

Here are 8 easy tips for how to organize a successful beach or park cleanup day. 

Don’t get overwhelmed. Planning events can be stressful, but cleanup days don’t have to be. Hosting this event can be as simple as gathering your four best friends for a little sunrise cleanup followed by a group hike. Or, if organizing is your jam, these tips are easily scalable to bring in your neighborhood, company or even entire city. 

Pick your cleanup location. Decide where you’re going to focus your efforts so you can determine what you’ll need to bring. 

Not sure where to begin? No problem. Use this government website to find your local government office. Then, direct yourself to the Parks and Recreation department. This will have information on places to start and what permits you might need, though typically, permits are only needed for underwater cleanup projects. 

Use your discretion. It is your neighborhood after all. 

Pick a date & time. Saturday mornings are usually the best time, but you can use your discretion here. Consider a short block beginning at 8:00 a.m. and ending around noon, before the hottest part of the day. A few hours can make a huge difference and won’t feel like much of an obligation. 

Plan for waste removal. Once you collect the trash/recyclables, you’re going to need to dispose of it somewhere. Depending on your group size you’re likely to haul in 50–300lbs of waste. That’s a lot! 

For small groups, consider borrowing a truck so you can transport your trash to the dumpster and recycling center. 

For larger groups, contact your local waste management company and ask for a bin to be placed at your site. Plan ahead for this as bin availability and delivery options may be limited and can take up to four weeks to schedule. 

If you’re cleaning up a park, reach out to local businesses in the area about depositing your collection in their bins. Once they hear about what you’re doing, some businesses are more than happy to oblige. 

Reach out to local vendors. Clean parks and beaches are good for business, so don’t be afraid to seek sponsorship from them. The sky’s the limit as far as sponsorship possibilities, but here are a few ideas: 

  • Pizza exchange. Ask a local pizzeria to provide your volunteers with pizza in exchange for 5 lbs of trash collected per each volunteer. 
  • Beer exchange. Ask a local brewery for a round of free beers for every 5 lbs of trash collected per volunteer. 
  • Corporate sponsorship. Ask a local corporation (or your employer) to donate $5 for every 5 lbs of the trash you collect, then use that money to pay for your cleanup celebration.

When you partner with another organization you broaden your reach, which leads us to the next step. 

Get out the word. You’ve got a great idea. Now, it’s time to rally the troops. Start this process early. Make your pitch quick, simple and conversational. Here’s an example:

Hey Fellow Lovers of the Planet, 

I’m planning a (beach/park) cleanup day and I’ve love for you to join me. We’re going to be cleaning up (name of the site) on (date and time). After, we’ll celebrate at (sponsored restaurant/event). Let me know if you’d be interested, and I can send you more information. 

Add photos! Take pictures of the area you plan to clean. Show how the trash and debris are affecting the site and its users. For coastal cleanups, you can also use this handy flyer. 

Spread the word:

    1. Ask if you can leave a flyer with the vendor you’ve just partnered with.
    2. Create a Facebook Event. 
    3. List your event on Nextdoor.
    4. List your event on Neighborland.
    5. Post photos of the problem on Instagram. 
    6. Post a newsletter above the water cooler in your office. 
    7. Ask for your event to be included in city newsletters and websites.
    8. Ask for your event to be included in school newsletters and websites.

Prepare for your cleanup day. Now that you have a date, location, and group of people ready to help you’re going to need a plan. 

  1. Confirm dumpster delivery and pick-up.
  2. Know where the closest restrooms are for your volunteers.
  3. Confirm sponsorship plans (e.g., pizza or brewery).
  4. Create an email blast or Evite reminder to go out the day before your event that includes. 
    • Date and time
    • Location (including maps) and meeting spot.
    • Volunteer checklist. 
    • Fun photo of the cleanup process.
  5. Download and print this checklist of items you’ll need. 
  6. Gather supplies. 

Enjoy Clean Up day. Scan your checklist one last time to make sure you have all of the items you need, and perhaps most importantly, have a good time!