How to organize a clean-up

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There is not any one correct way to organize a clean-up activity in an urban area, along a river bank, on a beach or under water. Clean-up activities do not have to be as big as the one’s implemented by Mundo Azul. Projects can range from a small group doing a clean-up at their local beach to an international underwater clean-up:

Here some basic tips:

  • Choose a project or place you feel strongly about; it will be easier for you to stay enthusiastic as well as to motivate others.
  • It is also a good idea to choose an area that will benefit from the attention rather than one that is already clean and well maintained. Make your efforts worthwhile by improving an area that demands attention.
  • Be realistic with your goals and what you expect to accomplish.
  • Listen to the people in your area to find out what concerns them most.
  • Remember that you are making a difference by getting involved; be optimistic.
  • The most important rule before reading on:
    Never burn the garbage you have collected. Burning garbage in open fires creates Dioxins and Furans, two extremely toxic and dangerous groups of chemical substances. Inhaling the smoke from such fires may cause cancer and will enrich the poison in your body.

Personal clean-ups

You don’t need to wait until somebody organizes a big clean-up. Whenever you spend a day at the beach or in any other natural area, you can collect garbage as a personal activity. You may even involve your family and friends and make it a game or a competition. The only things you’ll need is to always carry some garbage bags and a few pairs of rubber gloves, as well as storing them in your car (Don’t rely on that you will remember to pack them in your luggage the day you leave home – have them in your car permanently and refill them after each clean-up action).

Remember:

  • Only collect as much garbage as you are able to transport comfortably. There is no sense in collecting garbage, filling it in plastic bags and then leaving the bags on the beach.
  • Don’t leave the plastic bags along the road or in another natural area. Find out where the next official waste dump is and take it there.

Planning a bigger clean-up activity

Good planning is the key to a successful event. Once you have decided on a project, you must build a game plan:

  • First, it may be necessary to get permission from the city, agency, or parties legally responsible for the area. Have a date and time in mind, because it is likely that the responsible parties will want to know when you are planning your event, how many people you expect, and what you plan to do. They may also be able to lend support on the day of your project, like providing the transport of the collected garbage to the official waste dump. Once you receive permission and have confirmed a date, you are ready to take action.
  • Deciding when to hold your event can play a larger role in your success than you may realize. There are many things to consider when choosing your day. Holidays and regularly scheduled events, soccer games or other events may keep people from committing to your project.
  • Stick to your original objective. It is very easy to get in over your head if you’re not careful. Remember, you can always plan an additional event in the future.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to recruit people and plan the event. Two months is usually enough time, but it could vary depending on the size of the event.
  • Decide how many people you would like to have at the event and recruit a few extra. Many times people will have to cancel with little or no notice, and you don’t want to end up shorthanded.
  • Look for the possibility of community involvement. Many schools, conservation groups, businesses, and other organizations will gladly volunteer.
  • Arrange your volunteers into groups to help you with the project. Your main responsibility is to manage the project. Distribute tasks to volunteers to lessen the load on yourself.
  • Volunteers can help you with phone calls, recruiting sponsors, gathering material, safety and crowd control, recording data, or anything else that calls for attention.
  • Arrange to have trash removed. You can usually get this done by local agencies without a fee. Consider separating the recyclable materials as well.
  • Have plenty of drinking water available and recommend that everyone bring something to eat.
  • Arrange to have designated parking areas for participants and suggest car pooling.
  • Check with local authorities for free parking areas; as they may be able to designate a parking area for the event.
  • Post signs to help direct people to the event.
  • Depending on the size of your event, you may want to designate someone to act as a car pool / contact person, matching people for car pools.

Supplies and Sponsors

Many factors come into play when attempting to attain funding. The size, location, and purpose of your event will affect the decisions of potential financial supporters. Make a list of everything you will need to make the event a success:

  • Include trash bags, forms (see Forms section), writing instruments, flyers (or other forms of advertisement), signs, prizes, refreshments, food, fees, and any other items needed for the event.
  • When the list is complete, approach potential contributors based on the benefits they will gain from being a sponsor. For example, if you are looking for refreshments, the local bottled water company may be willing to donate water and cups for some advertisement. Companies may be more willing to help if there is some sort of advertisement or recognition for them. In addition, show how businesses can benefit from their involvement in environmental projects.
  • When you approach businesses for support, be sure to make them aware that you are doing this voluntarily and it is nonprofit. Give them plenty of time to meet your needs and give them recognition whenever possible (e.g., newspapers, television, radio, flyers, etc.).
  • Another approach is to create a cooperation program with a local business. By joining forces, you not only have the financial support of the business, but you have gained the opportunity to create a larger project. The company may have employees who will volunteer, which may help reduce your recruiting efforts.

Safety

Safety should be of prime importance no matter what the size of your event. Being prepared is the best way to assure a safe and successful event. Listed below are some considerations:

  • Evaluate the site prior to the event
  • If you are cleaning a land site, walk the area to make sure there are no hazardous materials present. Check to see if there are areas that need to be marked off.
  • Keep people in groups
  • By keeping people in teams, it is more likely that a potential danger will be spotted and avoided before a problem occurs. Create groups or teams to work together.
  • Review the program with everyone. Go over the agenda so all participants are aware of the time schedule. Review all forms and how to fill them out correctly. Be sure to have everyone check in and out with the responsible overseeing person. Some people will have to leave earlier than the rest of the group and they should know who to contact before they leave. Review where the trash is to be placed after it has been collected. Warn people of potential hazards such as metal containers or any other unmarked container, holes, cliffs, unstable ground, muddy areas, tide changes and weather conditions. Most important, review your purpose for being there. Keep in mind that only the trash and man-made debris are to be removed.
  • Appoint a safety coordinator. It is a good idea to have a safety coordinator who has medical, first aid/C.P.R. training and supervisory training. You do not need to limit yourself to one coordinator. You may choose to have one leader per group, as well as one lead person for the event. The event leader may be responsible for making people aware of potential hazards, having emergency information and phone numbers available. It may be appropriate to have medical supplies readily available.

Promoting and Advertising

Effective advertising can turn your event into a major success and benefit you when you plan your next project. When you promote your event, create a theme or come up with a catchy title. By including the media in what you are doing and why you are doing it, you are likely to get news coverage, which will help when you ask for support in the future:

  • Contact your local radio, television and cable companies. Many will air public service announcements at no charge.
  • Many newspapers will not only advertise non-profit events at no charge, but may consider doing a story on the event.
  • A good way to gain media coverage is to invite a local celebrity or government official to participate in your event (e.g., a local radio personality; representatives from large corporations; leaders of local nonprofit organizations; your mayor, congressperson, or political representative).
  • Be sure to notify the media if you get a commitment from a public figurehead. Use the sample press release to assist you.
  • Be sure to submit your press release early enough to meet publication deadlines.
  • Assemble a mailing list using all of your contacts.
  • To give participants an even greater incentive to participate, plan a raffle or prize giveaway for the best trash found.

Don’t forget…..

Have all of your supplies accounted for a week before the event. Below is a checklist of items to help you prepare:

  • Trash bags (have two different colors available if you are separating recycleables).
  • Writing instruments (pencils are preferable because they can be used underwater).
  • List of emergency contacts and phone numbers.
  • Emergency supplies.
  • Two-way radios for contact with group leaders at the site.
  • Cellular phone, if available, for emergency use; if cellular phone is not available, make note of the nearest pay phone.
  • First aid kit (includes oxygen if conducting an underwater event).
  • Rubber gloves for volunteers (gardening gloves work well for underwater debris).
  • Drinking water or other refreshments.
  • Support stations.
  • Banners, signs, and incentives.
  • A checklist for your team leaders to work from.

You may suggest to your volunteers that they bring the following items:

  • Warm clothing, if applicable.
  • Sun block and a hat, if applicable.
  • Lunch or snacks.

Remember…

Your goal is to leave the area cleaner than it was when you arrived. Make sure not to leave anything behind except your footprints.

Finally:

  • Only remove what does not belong in the area. Leave natural materials behind.
  • Plan your event far in advance. The more time you allow yourself, the less rushed you will find yourself on the day of the event.
  • Document your findings and keep your records of contact numbers for future events.
  • Have fun with your project; make it as enjoyable as possible for everyone including yourself.
  • Arrange to have the trash and recyclables picked up at the event site.
  • Locate the restrooms. If there are no restrooms, make arrangements for portable toilets to be delivered by a sponsor

Read more:

Report on 2003 Pucusana underwater clean-up and beach clean-up
Report on 2005 Pucusana terrestrial clean-up
Special guidelines for underwater clean-ups
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