World Cleanup Day is just around the corner. As The Great Global Cleanup continues with individuals and communities gathering around the world to beat plastic pollution.
But a cleanup is more than just about picking up trash.
Early this year, we organised a community clean up of Pulau Gazumbo in Penang, Malaysia, an uninhabited island with rich biodiversity filled with three decades worth of trash swept in from the oceans.
A lot goes on behind the scenes to any cleanup. Anyone can organise a cleanup—this toolkit will show you how to get started. Whether you’re a participant or an organiser, you can unlock greater impact with just a few simple ideas. Here’s what we’ve learnt on how we can get the most out of a cleanup and create long term impact:
Your Data Matters – Be A Citizen Scientist
Data is one of the most valuable outcomes of any cleanup. It helps us understand the sources and types of trash ending up in the oceans, and where they come from.
The academic community and advocate groups can use the data (both locally and as part of the global database) to influence legislation and guide solutions, as well as communicate the scale of waste creation and leakage in the local areas
Choose a data collection method to use. Ocean Conservancy is one of the more well-known global databases, but local organisations and academic institutes which have their own databases and methods that you can feed into are equally as important.
In bigger groups, a paper-based downloaded form may be easier to collate at the end of the cleanup, while smaller ad-hoc groups may find the Clean Swell app by Ocean Conservancy convenient.
Appoint people in charge of data collection for each team. It’s best to conduct a pre-event briefing for everyone so they can categorise and record data accurately on the day of cleanup.
Divert The Waste From Landfills
Many cleanups resort to sending the tonnes of trash collected to a landfill. And hey, it’s better in a landfill, where we can limit its harmful impact, than in the environment,
But we can divert a major portion of the waste collected from landfills and incinerators and recover valuable resources from the waste stream, just by setting up the logistics for sorting recyclables from non-recyclables.
It can be as simple as setting up different bags for items like PET bottles, rigid plastics, metals, etc. and non-recyclable trash and allocating them to teams.
Contact local recycling facilities to understand the types and conditions of recyclables they are able to accept, and contact your local council who may be able to assist or redirect you to the right parties for the removal of the remaining waste.
Avoid / Reduce Waste Created By The Cleanup Itself
Cleanups are a platform for advocating against single use. However, a group of people gathering outdoors has high potential of creating even more single use waste.
The amount of garbage bags, disposable gloves, plastic water bottles, packaged snacks – you’ll soon find a few more bags of trash created on the spot.
Gear up with Borrowed And Reused material instead!
Here are some measures we took in our last cleanup for some ideas
- Source large, used bags to reuse as garbage bags, from industries that ship or import bulk products like coffee, flour, etc. These bags are often not recycled and end up in landfills anyway. They have lots of potential for reuse and are stronger than garbage bags. Plus, businesses are usually happy to give them away for free!
- Instruct participants to bring their own bottle and water supply (1 litre and above recommended). Coordinate water refill options at the meeting point or on-site, if needed.
- Source and host an inventory of gloves and other trash picking tools (like reacher-grabbers), which can be reused again and again for cleanups. If your cleanup is a one-off event, borrow from or co-host your cleanup with existing local cleanup groups instead of buying new for single-use.
- Prepare package-free snacks like bananas on-site if needed.
- If you’re hosting a meal after for participants, host with a nearby F&B establishment that can serve you without disposables. Meals taste best without the disposables anyway!
Awareness creates longer lasting change
It can feel great to be part of a cleanup and watch a littered beach transformed. But the reality is, the beach will be covered with trash again the next day.
Beach cleanups cannot solve the plastic pollution problem IF we don’t change our throwaway culture. And a cleanup is a great starting point to shine a light on the scale of plastic pollution and incite change.
Invite friends to join you, post about your experience on social media, reassess your own personal single-use habits and switch to reusable options, engage in conversations about plastic pollution with your community – like what we’re doing with this piece (share this ideas on!)
What you do, influences others to change too.
Cleanups can be simple or as expansive as you want them to be. Do what fits the time, energy, resources and manpower that you have.
Just remember that,
Clean ups can happen anytime, anywhere
A cleanup always makes any place a little better. Whether it’s a solo plog or a large scale cleanup both still removes litter and prevents it from continuing to harm ecosystems.
They have to be at a beach or coastlines to prevent ocean and environmental pollution.
Litter pollutes land and soil too. And when it rains, litter washes into drains and follows waterways out into rivers and the ocean. So wherever you notice litter, pick it up !
Join the Great Global Cleanup, whenever and wherever you are.
Help us clean our coastlines! If you would like to get involved in our next cleanup in Malaysia:
For organisations, communities and corporations, email firstname.lastname@example.org with the title “Great Global Cleanup Malaysia”
Hosted and Produced by Melissa Tan @heymelissatan
With support from Penang Green Council and Penang State Government
In collaboration with Tze Ni Yeoh, Penang Swimming Club, Central for Marine and Coastal Studies of Universiti Sains Malaysia, Nature Classroom