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How to Plan a Beach Cleanup

What's better than a day at the beach? Not much, in the eyes of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who flock to America's sandy shorelines every year. But most beach lovers would be surprised to see how much the beaches need our help to get as clean and beautiful as we've all come to expect when we head to the shore in summer.

See what you'll find on your local beaches. Green Hands USA can help you encourage your community to preserve and beautify our beautiful shores.

Step 1. Set the date and get permission

Timing is critical for all community events, but especially for beach cleanups. To make your event a success, consider:

  • The ideal cleanup timing would be in early spring and again in late fall - just before and after the heaviest beach-going season.

  • Plan a time when the tide is going out, exposing more ground to cover and more trash to remove. Here's a website for tidal information: www.tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov, www.tbone.biol.sc.edu/tide

  • Get Permissions from local officials to make sure the date you pick is OK. If you don't know who to contact, call your local police station for guidance.

  • For more tips, see our guide on setting the date and getting permissions

Step 2. Recruit Volunteers

Finding volunteers can be the hardest part of any event - and it is the key to success. Green Hands USA can help!

  • Call upon your network of friends-it'll make the event more fun for all of you and they'll be most dedicated to making the event a success.

  • Fill in the details about your Beach Cleanup on the submit an event form.

  • Your event will be featured on the Green Hands USA web site for all to see - and sign up for!

  • And Green Hands USA will also email all volunteers in your area who have signed up on the site to let them know about your event - then they can lend their hands to make your project a success.

Step 3. Get Publicity

Here, too, Green Hands USA will help you. In addition to publicizing the event on the web site, we'll give you additional tools.

  • FLIERS: Customize the template flier you will also find under spreading the word. Post them all over your neighborhood: in local supermarkets and delis as well as on the bulletin boards of schools, parks, religious institutions and groups like the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, the YMCA, etc. Make sure to put on the flier that kids under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

Step 4. Let Volunteers Know What Kind of Beach Debris and Garbage to Expect

Green Hands USA will help you communicate in one easy step to all your volunteers. (The privacy of volunteers is completely protected -- names and emails are strictly confidential.)

Beach Debris

The most common items that wash ashore include:

  • plastic bags

  • bottles & cans

  • fishing gear

  • helium balloons

  • wire

  • waste paper

  • wooden crates

  • cigarettes

  • scraps of lumber, metal, plastic, Styrofoam, glass and rubber

  • clothing

  • medical vials, needles, tubing, syringes (parents need to make sure children do not handle such bio-hazards)

Step 5. Tools and Supplies You'll Need

The event planner should arrange for:

  • Sign-up Sheets and clipboards - helpful in case of emergency

  • First-aid Kits for cuts and scratches

  • Volunteers to bring SUVs or pick-up trucks to dispose of extra trash, if necessary

You'll also need to let volunteers know about what supplies to bring:

  • recyclable garbage bags

  • gloves -- biodegradable and protective

  • sifters and rakes

  • sunscreen

  • water and snacks

  • Trash Sticks-these sticks with a point on the end are great for people who have trouble bending over repeatedly, and they only cost about $10.

Step 6. Where to Get Supplies

Ask volunteers to bring as many items as possible from home. Include this information in your description of your event on Green Hands USA and in later updates to volunteers about your event.

Useful Website resources for supplies:

Biodegradable gloves, recyclable garbage bags:

Moneysaver Tip: To save money, ask local hardware and grocery stores to donate many of these supplies or help underwrite the costs. They are often happy to be associated with good, green events - especially if you add their names as sponsors to your publicity efforts.

Step 7. Point Out Danger Zones, Bathrooms and Parking

Parking sounds like a small issue - but it can make or break an event. Have a clear plan for where volunteers are expected to park on event day. And let volunteers know.

Let volunteers know if there are areas on the beach to avoid, such as fragile habitats, dunes, certain plant species, etc. It is important to remind them not to remove driftwood or shells and never disturb breeding areas of species like the piping plover.

Make signs with these warning reminders and post them on the day of the event. This will take some advance planning - signs need to be attached to a wooden or metal pole that can be planted firmly in the sand, to keep them from blowing over.

Also let everybody know where the bathrooms are. You need to keep volunteers happy as well as safe.

Step 8. Advise Volunteers about Suitable Clothing

  • Shoes that protect the feet are a must. Closed-toe sneakers or running shoes are safer than sandals or flip-flops. Those that are water-proof or at least that won't get damaged by water are a good idea.

  • Protective gloves are essential. Even if you plan to provide one-size gloves at the cleanup site, you may want to suggest that parents with children bring their own gloves that fit the children's hands, so the kids will be more inclined to keep them on throughout the cleanup. Sharp objects should not be handled with bare hands.

  • Jackets or extra layers of clothing are a good idea, as the wind off the water tends to make the beach area cooler than inland.

  • Sunscreen is important - even if the day is shady. Light reflecting off the water intensifies the burning UV effects.

Step 9. Set Up Emergency Plans: Lifeguard, First-Aid Kits, Walkie-Talkies

Even though you should tell everyone not to go in the water, it is wise to make sure you have on hand a person with EMT or lifeguard capabilities.

Bring a basic first-aid kit - with disinfectants, antibiotic cream, band-aids - to handle routine cuts and scrapes that may occur when handling debris.

Emergency plans also involve making sure there are working communications - cell phones or walkie-talkies, if the cell service in the area is unreliable. Make a list of the phone numbers of area police and hospitals - and have directions on hand.

Step 10. Cleanup Strategy - Consider Prizes and a Celebration

A common cleanup strategy is to have half the volunteers start at one end of the beach -- half at the other end - and meet in the middle. That way volunteers cover the entire area.

As an added incentive to clean up fast, set up refreshments at the meeting point for an after-event celebration. You might also give out prizes for the most unusual item found - and perhaps another for the person who collects the most stuff.

Step 11. Disposal of Garbage

  • Plan for extra garbage cans to be stationed at the end of the cleanup area.

  • If the usual number of garbage cans on the beach cannot cope with the waste, arrange for volunteers to bring trucks or vans or large cars to carry garbage to specified destinations where you have obtained permission to drop off waste.

Step 12. Event Planner Cheat Sheet:

Know the Answers to Common Questions that Volunteers May Ask at a Beach Cleanup

Q: How Does the Trash Get to the Beach?

A: Some of it comes from visitors to the beach who litter. But even more comes from the trash you see on the streets. How does that happen? When it rains, the trash on the street sweeps into storm drains - many of which discharge into the ocean or other nearby bodies of water. Trash also can be carried by the wind where it finds its way into waterways that feed into the ocean. Recreational and commercial boaters also dump trash right into the open waters, which eventually can find its way onto the shore.

Q: Why Are Beach Cleanups So Important?

A: Beach cleanups are vital. Garbage and litter are not just unsightly - they're dangerous. Debris poses a threat to ocean life. When seabirds and marine mammals mistake sharp objects for food, they can block their airways and suffocate or damage their digestive tracts. Fishes get entangled in six-pack rings, rope, fishing nets and plastic strapping that people discard on the shore and sometimes way out at sea. Or they mistake these items for food as well. Either way, the results are the same - the fishes and the animals can suffer and die.

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