How to host a community cleanup

Take action for our shared earth and water by leading a socially distant cleanup in your community!

By: Ashley van der Pouw Kraan

Every April 22nd, folks from around the world gather to celebrate Earth Day and take action against climate change.

The 2021 theme is 'Restore Our Earth'. And what better way to do that than with a socially distanced garbage cleanup?

Why organize a cleanup?

Whatever you call it--trash, litter, garbage--it's more than just an eyesore. Too often it ends up in our lakes, streams, and wetlands, polluting our freshwater sources.

One of the most common types of trash found in our local waterways is plastic. Cups, bags, fast-food wrappers, bottles and other containers are particularly prevalent and can be very hazardous to wildlife. Depending on the form of the plastic, it may either be ingested by or tangled on whichever creature encounters it.

Another common type of garbage is organic waste. This is waste that contains materials that came from living organisms, such as pressure-treated wood. Organic waste has a very detrimental effect on freshwater. It can interfere with the established native plants, affect the reproductive behaviour of fish and other animals, leak toxic materials, or deplete the water of dissolved oxygen as the waste breaks down.

No matter the type or source, we don't want garbage in our waterways. By grabbing your tongs and leading a cleanup of your favourite local park, lake, stream or waterway, you can help protect and preserve these critical spaces, and all who depend on them--both human and not!

Ready to start organizing your cleanup? Here are a few steps to help you get ready.

Before You Start

  1. Before you begin organizing your cleanup, check the provincial and local restrictions and guidelines in your area to ensure you can go ahead with a cleanup. 
  2. Decide who you will be cleaning up with. Your family? A bubble of safe friends? Whoever it is, stick to this group.
  3. Visit your cleanup site. Your site should be close to home. Check to see if there is litter that needs to be picked up and enough room to remain socially distanced while cleaning.
  4. Prep your supplies. Each member of the cleanup should have their own personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies:
    - Masks
    - Gloves
    - Hand sanitizer
    - Garbage Bags
    - Tongs

 Cleanup Day!

  1. Check your health. If you or any member of your cleanup are feeling unwell, stay home. Cancel or postpone your cleanup if needed.
  2. Keep socially distanced. You should be 2 metres apart from folks who are not in your household or safe bubble.
  3. Stay safe. Always wear gloves, don’t touch your face, and follow municipal guidelines when cleaning items such as personal protective equipment, syringes, or any personal hygiene materials.
  4. Share your work! Snap a before and after photo of your cleanup area, and a few selfies along the way to share with us on Twitter or Instagram!

Finishing Up

  1. Once you’re done cleaning, dispose of what you’ve collected, with recyclables going into the recycling, and trash going in the garbage.
  2. Start sanitizing. Clean your gear, and yourself! Wipe down any surfaces with an alcohol-based disinfectant and wash your hands.

Finished your cleanup? Don’t forget to share your pictures with us! You can tweet them at us at @H2OAlliance, tag us on Instagram at @freshwateralliance, or email us!

More Ways to Protect

Garbage isn't the only problem that plagues our freshwater. There are many different types of pollution that are often invisible to the naked eye. Municipal, industrial and agricultural waste, wastewater and nutrient run-off, power generation, heavy industry, automobiles and other runoff sources all affect our freshwater. Learn more about what the Canadian Freshwater Alliance is doing for these issues, and how you can take action. 


Your health and safety are our first priority. Before you head out on your cleanup, please make sure you are following the COVID-19 guidelines set out by your province and local public health groups.