How to Start (or Join) a Community Cleanup in Your Area

published Nov 17, 2022
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How to set up a community clean up
Credit: Photo: Shutterstock; Design: Apartment Therapy

In September, I walked a mile from my home to Lake Michigan to join a friend on a beach cleanup day. It was organized through the Alliance for the Great Lakes’ Adopt-A-Beach program, which allows any Chicagoan to schedule a cleanup.

We trudged through the sand, along the long grass lining the beach, then down the pier and back up into the grassy area near the road, gathering abandoned clothes, plastic bits, remnants of fireworks, and any other trash left behind on the beach. People thanked us for the work at intervals along our walk — just everyday beachgoers — helping to remind us that we weren’t just saving lake life from microplastics and trash, but we were also helping the community enjoy a higher quality of life.

It was a fulfilling experience, and one you can also enjoy in your town. If you’re interested in organizing or joining a community cleanup, here’s what to do.

Research what’s nearby

A quick Google search for “[town] community cleanup” should get you pretty far in seeing what’s nearby. But you can also ask the local chamber of commerce or tourism board to see if they’ve heard of anything, check bulletin boards, or chat with neighbors to see if anything is planned — or if they want to join forces with you! You can also search for popular cleanup programs and offer to host one of your own.

Here are some existing cleanup programs:

  • Great American Cleanup. This is the largest community cleanup program in the United States. About 15,000 events happen across the country for the program, usually from late March to late June. 
  • Great Global Cleanup. This Earth-Day-sponsored program aims to create the largest cleaning crew in the world by facilitating cleanups globally. You can search what’s around you any time of year or plan your own event. 
  • World Cleanup Day. This program brings together 191 countries with the goal of tackling the global waste problem. The annual cleanup is held in mid-September. World Cleanup Day began in Estonia in 2008 with 50,000 people cleaning for five hours.

Assemble a group

Once you’ve decided to do a cleanup, get the word out! If you have a neighborhood group on Facebook or another social media channel, mention it there and ask for volunteers. Invite all your friends and family. Join forces with block clubs or local associations and churches. Create fliers and put them up around town. You’ll likely assemble a nicely sized group pretty quickly. 

Register your cleanup

Head over to Earth Day’s website and register your cleanup. Your event will be added to a searchable database so people like you can find it and join in. If you’ve already held your event, you can still share it to track that it happened. 

Gather supplies

The most important things you’ll need for your cleanup are gloves and garbage bags for all volunteers. Look around the site you’ve picked to clean and see if any other special supplies are necessary, like a lawnmower for grassy areas or a trash picker tool if you need to clean behind a fence or over a ledge. Once participants arrive, hand out supplies and send them off to gather garbage. It will probably be helpful to have an arrangement with a trash service to come pick up everything that’s been collected — that way you’re not overstuffing dumpsters or leaving bags of trash out. 

This piece is part of Community Month, where we’re sharing the best ways to connect with, strengthen, and celebrate the communities you live in and belong to. Head on over here to see it all!