Vol.2, No.6

Organizing a community clean-up day

Organizing a clean up is a rewarding service project for your troop, organization, or town. With some advance planning the project will come off without a hitch and the earth will thank you!

Community litter clean up
Photo Credit: David Freund
Organizing a clean up in your community is a fun and rewarding experience. If you keep yourself organized and ask a few key questions, you will have a successful clean up for you and the earth.

Where will the clean up be held?

When selecting a site, keep in mind that you are going to have people of many different abilities working. Is the site accessible? Are there restrooms available? Is there poison ivy? Is enough trash around to make it worthwhile cleaning up? If you hang a banner or sign, will there be enough traffic to see it? Be sure to scout the area first and get an idea of the type of trash that is being dumped. Is there an area to gather the volunteers after the clean up for food?

If you are working on private property you will need to ask permission from the landowner. Even if you are on public property, you will still need to ask permission from the town or state agency responsible for the property.

How many people do I need? Where can I find them?

Ask a lot of people.

Then ask more.

Once you have your time and place, send a press release to all the local papers and community calendars. Check their deadlines and preferred manner of accepting a press release. If you are unsure how to submit a listing, call first, most are happy to help.

Scouts, Campfire, and church youth groups are great sources of help. Check with the local schools as well. Many have a service requirement for students and this is a great way for them to help.

What are you going to do with the trash after the clean up?

You should contact local trash or waste haulers and ask if they will donate a dumpster or a pick up. Local business might be willing to let you fill their dumpster as well. If large pieces of trash are in the area, you will need to contact a specific hauler to help remove it and take it away.

Two special kinds of trash are tires and shopping carts. Tires are considered hazardous waste in some areas and take special handling. When you call the trash hauler, ask if they take tires. If not, you may need to find a special place to accept them or recycle them.

Shopping carts can be returned to their store. This makes for great press and good photo opportunities.

What supplies will be needed for the clean up?

You will need to have gloves and bags for the volunteers. Many local drug stores and discount stores carry both. If you ask early enough, they are often are able to donate these supplies. Check with the manager about their charitable donation policy.

For the volunteers you will need to provide water and some food for after the clean up. Most supermarkets will provide small gift certificates for food. Local restaurants are often willing to help with a clean up as well especially if it garners good publicity or cleans up near their restaurant.

Tee-shirts or water bottles are a nice way to say thank-you to the volunteers. Be sure to you have youth sizes if you have a lot of kids helping out. Other good ways to say thank you are to offer a walk on the cleaned up area by a naturalist, discount cards at local sporting goods stores, and raffles or drawings.

How can I ensure a smooth clean up?

On the day of the clean up, have all volunteers meet in one central location. If you want to make this part of an on-going effort, have everyone sing in with contact information and ages. Organize them into teams with at least one adult per group. Each group should start in a small area so everyone isn't overlapping too much. Make sure each person has at least one pair of gloves and trash bag.

Remind everyone to make note of any medical waste and to leave it alone. Reserve a few strong adults to do the heavy lifting and ask them to 'float' and get the shopping carts, tires, or other large items along the entire clean up area.

Choose a time or a signal such as a horn or bell to gather everyone up at a specific time. If you are offering food or a thank-you gift like a shirt, this is the time to pass them out.

Some people will want follow-up information about the clean up. You can ask them to note this on a sign-in sheet or let them know if local media is covering the event.

What needs to be done after the clean up?

Write a short follow up report that includes where and when the clean up occurred, a list of groups that participated, the number of volunteers that participated, and how much trash was picked up (measure in terms of tons, pounds, dumpsters, or whatever makes it sound big). Include a list of unusual items found and the numbers of tires and shopping carts recovered.

Be prepared to send lots of thank you notes. Every business needs a thank you note as well as each group that helped (for example, the scout troop or school group). Include a copy of your final report.

Send your final report to all the local newspapers. If you have a good picture or two, offer to send that along as well. This will help you get support next time!

Where are good places to ask for funding to support a clean up?

Local community foundations are often a good place to start to ask for funding a clean up. They have specific deadlines and often have long application processes so start very early.

Chambers of commerce and other business groups may have funding available to support projects. You can also ask individual businesses for support especially if you are going to be working on or near their property.

Discount department stores and drug stores, especially locally owned stores, are often good resources for supplies and funding. Ask the manager to explain their store's charitable donation policy. You will increase your chances of getting support if you follow the procedures exactly.