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The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Successful Community Cleanup

Take the steps to make your community a better place. Follow along with our guide to plan a seamless cleanup event.

ByJuliana McDonald| Last Updated:08/07/2023
Litter left at a community park.

Keep Your Neighborhood Clean and Litter-Free

If you ever walked through your local park and thought, "someone should clean this up," then you're in the right place. Individuals are responsible for creating litter but it takes a village to clean it up.

The success of a community cleanup depends on how well it's planned. From picking a location, developing an action plan and earning the support of volunteers from the community, it can take a lot of time and effort. Get expert advice from Elizabeth Mullen Matteson of Litter Project and Sarah Wilson from Doing Good Together to make sure your event is successful.

Community Cleanup FAQs

How do I start a community cleanup?

What are the best litter cleanup tools?

How can I get rid of hazardous waste?

How to Plan a Neighborhood Cleanup

1. Scout Out the Location

Chances are you already know what areas are litter magnets in your community, but it’s important to scout out locations to plan logistics. Find a spot for your cleanup “headquarters” where you can keep supplies and gather everyone together. It should be as close to restrooms, parking and available garbage cans as possible. “If the place [involves] private lands or special access, consider that special permission is needed,” says Elizabeth.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when selecting your location:

  • Size of the park or street section.
  • Adequate parking lots or available street parking.
  • Storage space for supplies and water for volunteers.
  • Location and number of garbage cans or space for a small roll off dumpster.
A playground the needs cleaning.
A table of sorted recyclables.

2. Set the Project Goal

After you have scouted out the location, it’s time to set your project goal. Of course, the primary goal is creating a clean space for you and your neighbors to enjoy. But you should also consider setting secondary goals, such as recycling specific items, documenting the cleanup process and raising awareness of the littering problems in your community.

3. Develop a Clear Plan of Action

Keep your plan concise and simple. Create a thorough timeline of events, including checklists for important materials and any delegated tasks.

Important Questions to Answer When Planning Your Neighborhood Cleanup

  • Will you be using trash cans or a dumpster?
  • What is your plan for any hazardous waste collected?
  • How many volunteers will you need to tackle your planned location?
  • How is this plan going to be communicated to residents and volunteers?
  • What materials will you need on hand for the cleanup? Ex. gloves, pickup tools, shovels and trash bags.
A group of people making a plan.
Litter Project logo
Elizabeth Mullen Matteson, Founder | Litter Project

"Get clear on the location, time of the planned cleanup and goal."

Get a Dumpster for a Community Cleanup
Recruiting volunteers in conversation.

4. Assemble Your Team

Recruiting volunteers and members of the community is key to a successful cleanup. Use your personal network, social media or enlist the help of your local media to get the word out.

Litter Project logo
Elizabeth Mullen Matteson, Founder | Litter Project

“The best way to attract more people in the community to come out is to be excited about the project yourself. Pick a place that has meaning to you, that you can visualize beautiful and clean. Make that happen, then tell lots of other people your plan and very clearly invite them to join you. Your connection is what will attract others to help, plus details on the where, when and why of the cleanup.”

5. Communicate the Cleanup Day Plan

Have a meeting a few days before the cleanup to clearly go over the timeline of events and your plan of action. Explain where supplies will be kept, if water and snacks will be provided and any other important information.

Volunteers sharing the cleanup plan.
Light bulb icon.

Pro Tip

Send out a reminder email to your list of volunteers the day before the scheduled cleanup. To anticipate possible miscommunications, consider bolding the meetup location in your email. You can also a Google Maps link for better visualization. Remember to share contact information in case someone has questions.

Litter going in a garbage bag.

6. Get to Work

The day of the cleanup, arrive early to ensure that everything is in place and organized before getting to work. Make sure to throw your trash bags out in a nearby dumpster as you go along. This way, you'll avoid the extra step to collect the bags when you're done. Bags of debris can be deceptively heavy, consider using wheelbarrows or dollies to do the heavy lifting for you.

7. Celebrate After the Cleanup

Once the hard work is finished, it’s important to enjoy the newly cleaned space. Think about planning a thank-you event for residents and volunteers who were there to lend a helping hand.

A clean community playground
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Keeping Your Neighborhood Clean

While it would be ideal to have a completely pristine park year-round, litter has a habit of popping up in public places. The best way to keep your neighborhood clean is not only to plan large-scale annual events, but also pick up litter every time you see it. Sarah says, “Look where you are and do something right now," Sarah said. "Special projects are good, but if you wait for a time when you can clean up with a girl scout troupe, the area will only get worse. Make it a habit to clean each time you visit a park.”

In addition, Elizabeth points out there's also an emotional connection from putting in the hard work, “Once people are invested in a place, they tend to keep it up. They also tend to love it all the more, and isn’t that what this is all about?”

Expert Contributors

Litter Project Logo.

Elizabeth Mullen Matteson

Elizabeth is the founder of Litter Project, a non-profit organization in Rhode Island that works to inspire people to pick up one piece of trash a day and set up their own community improvement projects nationwide. Aside from Litter Project, she is also a web designer at EM Web Design, a web development and internet marketing company.

Doing Good Together Logo.

Sarah Wilson

Sarah worked for Doing Good Together (DGT), a non-profit based in Minneapolis that's focused on creating volunteering opportunities open to families. She researched and coordinated kindness opportunities for families in the Miami area and managed the DGT's Miami- based Instagram.

What Do You Think?

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