How to Organize a Local Beach Cleanup

Photo of volunteers cleaning the beach by collecting garbage into plastic bag
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If you live near the coast, you’re probably tired of seeing debris left behind or washed up on beaches. Plastic bags, bottles, food containers, fishing line, toys and even hazardous waste are just a few of the types of garbage that litter our coastlines. Drain runoff, commercial ships and beachgoers are just a few of the culprits contributing to this problem.1   

Luckily, you have an opportunity to be part of the solution. Organizing a beach cleanup will help save marine life, boost the local tourism economy and build your understanding of coastal habitats. Keep reading to learn some helpful tips and suggestions for organizing your very own cleanup event. 

What’s a Cleanup? 

Beach cleanups are events during which people collect and properly dispose of garbage and debris on the coast. You can do a cleanup all by yourself or with a bigger group of friends, family or local volunteers who want these valuable ecosystems to be healthy and pristine. A beach cleanup is an excellent opportunity to contribute to data collection, make your community more beautiful and make the beach safer for wildlife.

Why Are Cleanups Important?

Human activities are threatening complex ocean and coastal ecosystems. When we clean our beaches, we are preventing garbage from entering or re-entering our oceans and helping species that rely on the beach for their survival. Cleanups are important because they: 

  • Save marine life: Debris like plastic suffocates and starves marine life that ingests it. Cleaning beaches prevents animals like sea turtles from dying due to plastic pollution. 
  • Help the local economy: Tourism and recreation in coastal areas contributes $143 billion to the U.S. GDP each year.2 Keeping your beaches clean means everyone can enjoy them.
  • Stop microplastic pollution: Plastic eventually breaks up into tiny microplastics that are nearly impossible to filter out of the environment once they are there. Picking up plastic prevents microplastics from further polluting the beaches and oceans. 
  • Encourage stewardship and education: When you get involved in taking care of your community, you are more likely to think about your consumption choices and care for the environment. 

Before Your Cleanup

Once you’ve decided to organize a beach cleanup, you’ll need to do some work to get ready for the event. 

  • Find a cleanup site: An ideal cleanup site is one that needs cleaning and is accessible to your volunteers. Visit the location beforehand so that you know where to direct your volunteers on the day of the event.
  • Get county/city permission: Inform your local parks and recreation department about your cleanup. You may need permission or a permit to authorize the event. 
  • Round up volunteers: Contact local environmental groups and advertise your cleanup on social media to gather a group of volunteers if you don’t have your own participants. 
  • Share information with your group: Make sure you tell your volunteer group where and when to arrive, any supplies they will need to bring (including things such as reusable water bottles, sunscreen and lunch), how long the cleanup will take and any other pertinent information. 
  • Gather supplies: Make sure to bring extra gloves, hand sanitizer, trash bags or buckets, and water. Plan ahead with a first-aid kit, sunscreen and bug spray as well. 
  • Plan how to dispose of the trash: We recommend separating the trash you collect and having a plan for items that should be recycled, composted or sent to a landfill. Also plan for disposing of potentially hazardous materials and compost. Reach out to a local waste management location in advance to make sure it can accept your waste.

During Your Cleanup 

During your cleanup, it is crucial that you stay as organized as possible and ensure your group’s safety. With some preparation, your group of volunteers will be more efficient and cover more ground.

  • Assign stations to volunteers: To cover the most ground possible during your cleanup, assign volunteers in your group to start cleaning different stretches of the beach. Have a time and place for everyone to meet up at the end.
  • Be accessible: Make sure that your volunteers have a point of contact during the cleanup. Share relevant contact information and be available throughout the entire event. Be prepared to address any emergencies and call for help if necessary. 
  • Record and take pictures: Collecting and reporting data will be much easier after the cleanup if you are tracking what you find as you go. Also be sure to take photos of your team to share after the event.

After Your Cleanup

After your cleanup, make sure to sanitize and dispose of all waste properly. A little planning can make the disposal process easier. 

  • Wash hands and arms: Clean and sanitize your hands and arms thoroughly before and after handling trash. Try not to touch your phone or face until after you have finished touching any trash and have washed your hands. 
  • Weigh and report trash: Reporting the garbage you find will contribute to global data collection. There are many programs and organizations you can submit your data to, including Surfrider Foundation, the Ocean Conservancy and NOAA.
  • Dispose of trash properly: Sort the trash you collect, and seal and drop off any hazardous waste you may find. Properly dispose of additional trash, recycling and compostable material.
  • Share on social media: Acknowledge your team! You never know who you’ll inspire to take action for the environment. 

Get Involved With a Cleanup Organization

If you aren’t ready to organize your own beach cleanup, there are plenty of organizations out there that you can join for an event.

Not only are national nonprofit organizations like the Ocean Conservancy and Oceana working to coordinate large-scale cleanups, but local organizations and government agencies also routinely host these types of events.

Getting involved with a cleanup organization can help you stay informed about other events and local best practices before you organize a beach cleanup of your own. You may even be able to volunteer to coordinate a cleanup through an organization in your area.

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