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How to Plan a Litter Patrol

You know what it's like - you're on a lovely walk or a drive in your neighborhood when the scene is suddenly spoiled by the sight of soda cans on the ground, bits of paper flying in the breeze and plastic bags hanging from the trees. The problem will not go away by itself.

  • Every day the average person walks or drives by 12,000 items of litter.

  • Cigarette butts, the most common litter in the USA, take up to five years to decompose.

  • Plastic bags can float from tree branch to tree branch for up to 20 years.

  • Plastic six-pack covers last up to 450 years (and can kill birds and marine life).

  • Aluminum soda cans hang around for 500 years.

  • Glass bottles can stick around for up one million years.

But you can do something about it. Here's how Green Hands USA can help you organize a Litter Patrol to keep your neighborhood beautiful and clean.

What's a Litter Patrol?

It's a group of friends and neighbors - any size from 2 on up -- -- who gather together for an hour or two to clean up. As you clean up the neighborhood, you can talk and socialize - so it's fun to do. And if you want to make it even more of a social gathering, you can all go out together afterwards to celebrate your good work- play ball - or poker - or gather for a drink or a meal together.

Litter Patrols Can Save Lives

Picking up trash not only beautifies - it can save lives. Trash along the highway can kill when pieces of metal or other hard objects pierce windshields. (See the photo. Of a piece of metal piercing a windshield.

Even paper can blow onto the driver's side of the window and obstruct the view long enough to cause a crash.

Litter messes up our neighborhoods and our rivers and streams, too. About 60% of water pollution comes from litter and trash that makes it ways from the streets to storm drains and eventually into our waterways.

Litter Patrols Prevent Future Litter - and Saves Money

By forming a Litter Patrol you are not just picking up litter - you are preventing future litter. Studies have shown that people tend to litter more when they see litter has already accumulated. It makes them feel as if a little more trash won't make a big difference - and besides, they figure that someone else will pick it up anyway. So by cleaning up an area, you actually keep it from getting trashed later.

You're also saving the U.S. money. Cleaning up litter costs the local, state and federal governments millions of dollars every year. For example, Georgia alone spends over $17 million per year to pick up litter -mostly along highways. Alabama spends around $7 m.

Here's How to Plan a Litter Patrol

Step 1: Set the date

You can make your Litter Patrol a one-time event. Or even better, you can make it a regular gathering. Pick a date that is easy to remember so people build it into their monthly calendar - such as, the first Saturday or Sunday of every month, from Noon to 2 PM. Keeping the time frame to an hour or two makes it easy and doable regularly.

Step 2. Pick a Few of Your Friends to Join You

Here's where the fun begins. Ask your friends to come join in. So the cleanup is not just a chore, it's a fun social gathering. Cleaning up isn't complicated - you can talk and socialize while you're doing it.

Step 3. Meet Up at a Regular Spot

To keep it simple, no matter where you decide to clean up, you might want to agree to meet up first at the same spot each month. Everyone can park their cars or bicycles, and then all go together, on foot, or in one car to save gas, to the destination spot.

Step 4. Pick the Cleanup Place

There are no set rules here - play it by ear. You can adopt one block or area -- a park, an abandoned lot, a stretch of road or highway - and have your group take charge of keeping it clean. Or you can let each member of the Patrol pick different spots each time - each person's favorite area that needs help. Or you can simply pick a general area and roam the neighborhood, picking up as you go, and taking steps to prevent litter from happening in the first place (see below).

Step 5. Be Prepared to Go It Alone

If the group doesn't show up one day, be prepared to go it alone.

Step 6. Be Open to Expanding the Patrol, too

If you want the group to grow bigger, Green Hands USA can help! Finding volunteers can be the hardest part of any event - and it is the key to 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 7. Get Publicity to Recruit Even more Volunteers

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

  • PRESS RELEASE: Just customize the Press Release template and send it to local newspapers, magazines, radio stations, web sites.

  • FLIERS: Customize the template flier and 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 8. Supplies You'll Need

Keep it simple. Don't worry about getting your hands dirty. Gloves are a good idea, but remember, handling money is often dirtier than the litter you'll find. And if you saw a $50 bill on the ground, you know you wouldn't hesitate to pick it up!

  • Trash bags (preferably the recyclable variety)

  • Gloves -- gardening or other heavy gloves to prevent infection from possible cuts or skin punctures from sharp objects

  • Hand Sanitizer - can't hurt if you decide not to wear gloves

  • Stick with a pointed end - to snag paper without bending over

  • Sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and antiseptic hand wipes

  • Mosquito Repellent - especially if you're in parks or near tall grass

  • Water or beverages -- to prevent dehydration in warm weather and to keep warm in winter

Where to Get Supplies

Ask volunteers to bring as many items as possible from home - or gather them from residents in the community. 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:

Trash Stick:

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 9. Prevent Future Litter, as You Roam

More than half of litter is deliberate -- but the rest happens accidentally, through carelessness. Loose garbage lids or recycling materials or uncovered trucks let stuff spill onto the street. Loose litter then blows into our parks, schools, highways, down storm drains in the street to our rivers and streams.

So Litter Patrols can help prevent future litter by roaming the neighborhood and taking care of the following tasks:

  • Make sure to securely fasten all the lids of garbage cans you see awaiting trash pickup.

  • Secure the lids on recycling bins

  • Check dumpsters near businesses -- make sure the top and side doors are closed

  • If you notice parked trucks with loads that are not carefully sealed and covered, leave a note on the windshield.

  • Attend community events in your neighborhood (local concerts, fairs, etc.)- or your local marina where people dock their boats -- and distribute litterbags at the entrance so people remember to clean up after themselves.

Step 10. Party time - Celebrate your success

To add to the fun, you can plan for everybody to do something more social after the cleanup - meet for lunch, or a coffee or a drink or a game of cards.


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