The 4ocean Cleanup Guide

How to organize a community cleanup and maximize your impact

Cleanups are one of the most effective ways to raise awareness about plastic pollution because they allow us to experience the impact of this global crisis right in our own backyard. 

Seeing the products we use everyday as litter can give us a whole new perspective on the impact of our consumption habits and encourage us to rethink our relationship with plastic. 

This firsthand experience with plastic pollution often inspires small lifestyle changes that add up to create an enormous impact!

Whether you plan on cleaning up on your own, getting friends and family involved, or organizing a community-wide cleanup, it’s important that you have all the tools and information you need to pull pounds, stay safe, and have fun. The 4ocean Cleanup Guide will walk you through the basics and help you maximize your impact. 

Let’s dive in!

Safety Guidelines

Before you get started, it’s important to go over a few safety guidelines to make sure you stay safe during your cleanup. 

  • Only pick up trash you feel comfortable handling. Never put your safety at risk to recover debris.
  • Never pick up sharp items like syringes or broken glass with your bare hands; always store this type of debris in a separate, wide-mouth container with a lid (like an old laundry detergent bottle) 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, downed power lines, and roadways with heavy traffic. 
  • If you’re cleaning with a group, agree on a meeting place and time in advance just in case cell phones lose reception.
  • Store the phone number for your local Fish and Wildlife Service office in your contacts in case you encounter an animal in distress. 
  • Don’t 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.
  • Always wear cleanup gloves to protect your hands from sharp or contaminated objects. 
  • Wear comfortable closed-toe shoes and dress for the weather / environment to prevent heat exhaustion and injuries.
  • Bring enough water and snacks to keep everyone hydrated and fueled throughout the cleanup.

Phase 1: Before the cleanup

Pick a day, time, and place: Choose an area that gets lots of human traffic like a public park, waterway, beach, or walking trail. If you’re an experienced diver, consider doing an underwater cleanup!

Count heads and check local guidelines: Cleanups are always more fun and impactful with a crew! If your group is larger than 10, contact your park or community officials ahead of time to see if they require a permit.

Gather supplies in advance: Cleanups don’t require much in the way of supplies, but there are a few things you’ll want to have on hand including:

  • Reusable bags to carry trash
  • A sifter to pan for microplastic
  • A grabber tool to pick up trash without straining your back
  • Gloves to protect your hands and keep them clean
  • A separate receptacle with a lid for sharp objects
  • A tarp for sorting recovered debris
  • Reusable water bottles and a full beverage cooler to stay hydrated
  • Snacks packed in reusable containers to stay fueled
  • Reef-safe sunscreen and/or bug spray
  • A small first-aid kit
  • Clothing that’s appropriate for the weather and environment
  • A phone or camera for before, during, and after pictures

Grab a 4ocean Cleanup Combo and rep the clean ocean movement while you clean!

Create a plan for disposing of your recovered debris: Plan on sorting debris into recyclables and non-recyclables when you’re done cleaning. Be sure to review your local guidelines for waste disposal ahead of time and determine how you’ll dispose of the debris you collect. If you want to weigh the trash you collect, find a local weigh station or call your local waste management facility for guidelines.

Phase 2: During the cleanup

Document the cleanup: Take pictures of the area you plan to clean before, during, and after so you can track your progress and share your results on social media later to help raise awareness.

Pick up trash: Collect anything man-made that doesn’t belong in the environment. Some debris can be sharp or hazardous, so only collect debris you feel comfortable handling. 

Get creative: 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 from sand and soil.

Have fun: Picking up trash is important, but so is enjoying nature and spending quality time with people. Strangers will ask what you’re up to; we encourage you to share your experiences as a member of the clean ocean movement and invite them to join us!

Phase 3: After the cleanup

Find a shady place to sort debris: Sort your debris by material into separate piles and take pictures. We usually separate by plastic, glass, metal, paper, trash/mixed materials, but how you sort your recovered debris will ultimately depend on your local guidelines for waste disposal.

Clean up the sorting area: You don’t want to leave any trash behind, so take a look around your sorting area and pick up any trash that’s gotten loose.

Follow your predetermined plan for disposal: It’s possible that what you find can be disposed of at home with your regular recyclables and trash. Just be sure you’re following your local guidelines for the disposal of any and all materials, especially if this includes scrap metal or medical waste like syringes.

Pat yourself on the back: Cleanups are a lot of hard work! Pat yourself on the back, thank your crew, grab a bite to eat, and get some rest. You’ve earned it!

Show us what you find: Share your cleanup photos and stories with @4ocean on Instagram using #4oceanLifestyle. 

Help track plastic pollution by sharing data from your cleanups

Plastic pollution is a relatively new issue and scientists are still working hard to collect data that accurately represents the scope and scale of this global crisis. Citizen scientists can help researchers map the flow of plastic by giving them insight into what types of plastic are in the environment and where. 

There are a few tools you can use to track your data. We like the Marine Debris Tracker mobile app, a joint initiative between the NOAA Marine Debris Program and the Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative (SEA-MDI). If you choose this app, be sure to select 4ocean from the list of organizations and follow the prompts to input your data.

All of the information you share will be uploaded into a global database that gives researchers better insight into this global crisis that they can use to develop solutions and guide policy change that stops plastic pollution at its source.

Show us what you find and compare notes

Share your cleanup photos and stories with @4ocean on Instagram using #4oceanLifestyle. 

Single-use plastics are the most common type of trash our crews recover during our daily cleanups, but what you find will really depend on where you clean! 

These are some of the items our crews recover most often. Take a look at what you’ve collected and see how it compares! 

  • Cigarette butts

  • Plastic bottles + bottle caps

  • Disposable utensils + straws

  • Food wrappers + takeout containers

  • Fishing nets

  • Microplastics

  • Styrofoam

  • Glass bottles + aluminum cans

Snag the basics!

Pull five pounds of trash from the ocean and bring purpose to every outdoor adventure with the 4ocean Cleanup Bag!

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