How to organize a fun and effective lake cleanup

Lake cleanup

No matter how hard we try to keep our natural areas pristine, traces of human activity still intrude. If your lake or waterway is looking a little worse for wear, organizing a community cleanup can be a great way to bring people together and improve everybody’s aquatic experience. Here are some tips to help make that happen smoothly and safely.

Decide whether you need a planning committee

Depending on how many people you’d like to involve and the size of the area to be cleaned up, a planning committee with a designated co-ordinator might help lighten the workload for everyone. Include people from the community, local government, media, civic organizations, churches, and other religious groups, and—if possible—someone with parks and recreation or natural resources experiences. Divide jobs up by experience and interest—one person might be interested in creating media releases, while another might like to source donated cleaning supplies. Of course, a smaller effort can probably be undertaken with a couple of friends.

Decide on the area to be cleaned up

Check with your township or municipality to get appropriate permissions in place. Make sure your area is big enough to give everyone something to do, but small enough that people will see the results of their labour at the end of the cleanup.

Set a date

Determine the date eight to ten weeks in advance, and try not to coincide with any other events, like long weekend celebrations. (In fact, doing a cleanup after a long weekend might not be a bad idea!)

Find participants

Post a notice at the town hall, the local beer store, or the greasy spoon—anywhere your neighbours gather in large groups. Consider going door-to-door to deliver flyers, which is also a great way to get to know your neighbours. Register your cleanup with the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, which will connect your project with interested participants. Encourage people to register in teams, with a designated team captain who will be a point of contact.

Determine what you’ll need

Here’s a basic list of supplies you should have on hand:

  • Cleaning supplies: gloves, garbage bags (different coloured ones for recyclables and trash if your municipality offers recycling), sharps disposal container (check with a local drugstore), tongs for picking up glass or needles, rakes, shovels, and litter poles
  • Maps of the area to be cleaned up
  • Souvenir t-shirts or hats
  • Water and drinks to keep everyone hydrated
  • First aid kit
  • Liability waivers for each participant

Make sure participants know that they have to dress appropriately for the weather, wear sturdy closed-toe footwear and a hat, and bring their own sunscreen and bug spray. Also, some municipalities offer free cleanup kits or have cleanup programs, so check to see whether you can get any support. Finally, you might offer childcare for families that have children too young to participate. Pay a couple of local high school student to do crafts or read books with little ones, or put on a kid-friendly outdoor movie.

Be safe

Designate and train specific people to deal with needles and other potentially hazardous waste, and let cleaners know who to approach if they find dangerous items. Always use caution around the water’s edge. Ensure there’s plenty of water available on hot days, as well as shady areas for getting out of the sun. Let cleaners know not to disturb wildlife habitat, plants, or trees.

Determine disposal

Volunteers can drive trash to transfer stations or dumps, or the local public works department might be able to help out. If possible, make sure to separate recyclables from trash.

Make it fun

Yes, it’s garbage, but a cleanup can still be enjoyable. Schedule a barbecue as a reward for all the hard work, and give out prizes for most trash collected, best team cheer, weirdest item found—anything to create a celebratory mood. See if a local politician or celebrity can make an appearance, or whether a local radio station would like to do a live broadcast. Post pictures on Facebook and Twitter for maximum reach.

Have you run a community lake cleanup? What was your experience?