How to Host Your Own DIY Cleanup

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Use these tips and tricks to make sure your event goes off without a hitch.

When REI closes its doors on Black Friday to #OptOutside, we’re asking everyone to join us for a nationwide day of action, kicking off a year of change. We’re hosting nationwide cleanups leading up to and on Black Friday (Nov. 29) with partners like Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics and United By Blue.

If you’re not able to make it or there’s not one close to you, consider hosting a cleanup in your community in the coming weeks. The supplies needed are minimal, and the effort doesn’t have to last all day. With a little planning, a DIY cleanup can be an enjoyable and effective way to leave the world better than you found it.

We asked our partners at United by Blue and Leave No Trace to share their expert tips for hosting your own cleanup.

Before your cleanup

Pick a cleanup spot.

  • Find a local area that’s in need of a cleanup. This could be a local park, creek, trail or your neighborhood block. Plan to stick to public spaces and sidewalks.
  • Many natural areas have limitations on the number of people for an organized event, so run your plan past park or community officials. It’s usually best to give them at least two weeks to grant permission—and possibly issue a fee-based permit—for your cleanup. In general, a small cleanup with fewer than 10 participants will be easier to get approved than something bigger.

Determine how to properly dispose of the trash and recycling that you find.

  • If you’re in a public park or trail network, this can be as easy as figuring out where the nearby public trash and recycling receptacles are located.
  • If you’re cleaning an area without public trash receptacles, contact your local disposal company to find out where drop-off points are in your area.

Review your local recycling guidelines.

  • Each local government in the United States sets its own rules for what’s recyclable and compostable. You can usually find it online. Earth911 also provides a location-based recycling search tool and the EPA also has a guide for how to recycle common items.

Gather your supplies.

  • Cleanups usually don’t require much: some sturdy bags, work gloves and maybe some grabber tools if you can get them. Or you can pick up a custom cleanup kit—complete with a bag, gloves and Opt to Act bandana—created by United by Blue and REI for $10.
  • It’s never a bad idea to have a small first-aid kit on hand.
  • A long-sleeve shirt, pants and sturdy, closed-toe shoes are always recommended to help protect from any hazards.
  • Don’t forget a reusable water bottle and snacks so you can stay hydrated and properly fueled.

Recruit a few friends and family members.

  • Cleanups are always more fun with a pal. Plus, you’ll double your trash pick-up.
  • Send a personal “save the date” email message at least a week before the cleanup day. A quick text message or follow-up email the night before the big day is also a good idea. Be sure to include the gathering time, end time and meeting location.

During your cleanup

Stay safe.

  • Always​ wear cleanup gloves with the nitrile (plastic) side on your palm.
  • Look before you grab trash—pay attention to any sharp or unknown objects.
  • Place sharp objects like glass shards in a solid container, like a glass jar, and dispose of them safely with your trash.
  • If you come across hazardous materials like needles, check with your local hospital, municipality or county to find the best way to properly dispose of them.

Document your progress and thank your crew.

  • Take before and after photos of your hard work, get some group shots and make sure to tag @REI, @LeaveNoTraceCenter and @unitedbyblue.
  • Show your crew how much you appreciate its efforts. Consider bringing donuts, burritos or maybe an omelet bar—all manner of drinks and treats will surely be appreciated. (Before you decide to add any alcoholic beverages into the mix, find out if the natural area you’re in allows them.)

After your cleanup

You have officially contributed to a nationwide cleanup movement. Be sure to celebrate your contribution to clean outdoor spaces and waterways, then keep the momentum going. If you’re in need of some inspiration, we’ve put together the Opt to Act Plan—52 simple weekly challenges for a year of action.

Find an REI #OptOutside Cleanup Near You
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