How to Organize a Cleanup
Tips, tricks, and tools to help you get out there and clean like a member of the 4ocean crew!
Did you know that neighborhood cleanups are one of the most effective ways to raise awareness about plastic pollution? That’s because they allow people to interact with ocean plastic and see firsthand what kind of trash is actually out there.
Seeing the products we use every day as environmental litter can give us a whole new perspective on the impact of our consumption habits that inspires us to rethink our relationship with plastic.
At 4ocean, one of our core values is “small acts add up.” We believe that the everyday actions of individual people, collectively, have the power to change the world. Every cleanup you participate in protects our environment, prevents plastic from entering our oceans, and raises awareness about the global issue of plastic pollution. Cleanups are also an opportunity to reconnect with nature, meet like-minded neighbors, and inspire others to get involved.
No matter how small your cleanup is, no matter how many people join, even if it’s just you, you’re making a bigger impact than you think because you’re never acting alone. Our professional captains and crews are out here recovering ocean plastic and other harmful marine debris from the world’s oceans, rivers, and coastlines seven days a week and so are countless people just like you!
So whether you’re flying solo, getting friends and family involved, or planning an event for your whole community, we want to walk you through the basics so you stay safe, have fun, and maximize your impact.
Let’s dive in!
Before the cleanup
• Choose a safe waterway with lots of trash; areas with lots of foot traffic, parties, bonfires, and events are often the dirtiest
• Invite friends and family to make it fun and increase your impact; if your group is larger than 10, contact your park or community officials ahead of time to see if they require a permit.
• Gather all the supplies you’ll need including:
- • Reusable bags to hold trash
- • Thick gloves to protect your hands (our Cleanup Combo includes a jumbo size cleanup bag AND protective gloves, but even a pair of old gardening gloves will do the trick!
- • Grabber tools for gross or unsafe debris
- • Reusable drinkware and a portable water cooler to stay hydrated
- • Reusable food storage for snacks that fuel you
- • Reef-safe sunscreen, even if you live nowhere near the ocean
- • A small first aid kit, just in case
- • A large tarp and at least four large receptacles for sorting recyclables like plastic, glass, and metal from trash
- • Clothing and shoes that are appropriate for the weather and environment (shop 4ocean apparel and rep the clean ocean movement while you clean!)
- • A phone or camera to take before, during, and after photos
- • OPTIONAL: A wide-mouth container with a lid for sharp items like syringes or broken glass (an old detergent bottle is perfect for this)
- • OPTIONAL: A sifter for microplastics
- • OPTIONAL: Rakes, shovels, wheelbarrows, and other tools to help find, recover, and transport debris
It helps to know what you’ll do with the trash you recover before it’s staring you in the face, so make sure you review your local waste disposal guidelines and decide how you’ll sort and dispose of recovered debris in advance. Debris from smaller cleanups can usually be handled by a curbside waste management program, but there may be times where you’ll need to transport recovered debris to your local waste management facility directly or follow other instructions that are unique to your municipality.
You may recover materials that you’re not sure what to do with. If that happens, you can contact your local waste management facility for guidance or visit bercycled.org, a great resource that can help you find your local recycling guidelines for specific materials.
Please note that most recycling facilities cannot recycle single-use plastic straws and grocery bags. Plastic straws should be sorted with your trash, but local supermarkets or major retailers may accept them through an in-store recycling program.
During the cleanup
• Dress for the weather / environment and wear thick gloves, a hat, lots of reef-safe sunscreen, and comfy, close-toed shoes to prevent heat exhaustion and injuries
• Take pictures of the area you plan to clean before, during and after so you can track your progress and share on social media later to help raise awareness.
• If you’re with a group, set a time and place where everyone should meet back up and have everyone set an alarm on their phone; have a plan for what you’ll do if someone misses the rendezvous and can’t be reached on their phone
- • Collect anything that doesn’t belong in the environment. Some debris can be sharp or hazardous, so only pick up trash you feel comfortable handling. Never put your safety at risk to recover debris.
- • How you recover trash will depend on the environment you’re cleaning and the type of trash you’re collecting. Gloved hands are great for bigger pieces of trash while cleanup tongs are better for contaminated or hard to reach debris. A sifter is a useful tool for recovering microplastics.
- • If you encounter sharp items like syringes or broken glass, store them in a separate, wide-mouth container with a lid and follow your local guidelines for disposal.
• Always be on the lookout for natural and man-made safety hazards like rocky areas, cliffs, variable tides, poisonous plants, and roadways with heavy traffic.
- • Store the phone number for your local Fish and Wildlife Service office in your contacts in case you encounter an animal in distress.
- • Do not intervene on behalf of an animal in distress. If you don’t have cell service, note the location and call for help when you find an area with reception.
- • Take breaks as often as you need to and have a healthy snack to stay fueled
- • Drink LOTS of water! Cleaning up is hard work and you need to stay hydrated
- • Picking up trash is important, but so is enjoying nature and spending quality time with people. Strangers may ask what you’re up to; if they do and you feel safe, we encourage you to share your experiences as a member of the clean ocean movement and invite them to join us!
After the cleanup
• Find a shady space to sort debris, lay out your tarp, have everyone empty their reusable trash bag, and take a picture of everything you collected. Pat yourselves on the back!
• Sort recyclables and trash into different piles and take more pictures to share when you get back home
• Rebag the recovered materials by type or put them in the large receptacles you came prepared with
• Do a final cleanup of your sorting area and pick up anything that got loose; you don’t want to leave any trash behind
• Follow your plan for trash disposal, whether that’s your curbside bins, your local waste management facility, or something unique to your municipality
- • Cleanups are a lot of hard work so give yourself a big old pat on the back, thank your crew, and get some rest. You’ve earned it!
Always check local guidelines before you clean
Make sure you’re allowed to access the area you plan to clean ahead of time. Some parks and beaches may restrict access at certain times or for certain events. Larger cleanups (like a 4ocean Community Cleanup) generally require a lot more promotion as well as approval from the city or county where you plan to host it. Contact your municipality for details if you plan to host a community cleanup event.
We want to see the pounds you pull today!
Share your cleanup photos and stories with @4ocean on your favorite social media platform using #4oceanCleanup. We’re absolutely stoked to see what you recover.
Get the official 4ocean Cleanup Kit
Cleaning up your local environment is such a rewarding experience! If you’ve caught the bug and plan on hosting or participating in lots of cleanups in the future, we encourage you to invest in a 4ocean Cleanup Kit for every member of your crew. Each kit comes with our Cleanup Bag, Cleanup Tongs, Cleanup Gloves, Signature Bracelet, and the 4ocean Cleanup Guide. And every kit purchased pulls FIVE pounds of trash from the world’s oceans, rivers, and coastlines.
If you need a little inspiration to get out there and clean, we want to introduce you to Olivia and Julia, two young wavemakers who started a fundraiser so they could stock up on 4ocean Cleanup Kits and hand them out to fellow beach-goers. Read their story here!