Tee Cee's Tip for Monday, July 25, 2022

Jul. 24—Dear Tee Cee:

My daughter is in high school and wants to earn some volunteer hours this summer. She has recently become more interested in all sorts of environmental issues. We both love to read your columns and discuss the numerous topics tied into zero waste. Do you have any ideas of what we can do to tie together environmental action and earn volunteer hours?


Dear Linda:

Thank you for the kind words and for joining your daughter in zero waste community action. One excellent way to get folks involved and make a noticeable and satisfying difference in your community is to host a litter cleanup event. Your daughter can earn volunteer hours for planning and participating in the litter cleanup, and invite friends and classmates so they can earn hours, too. While there is no wrong way to beautify our public spaces, here are some tips to help you plan your event.

Get organized

There are a few details to consider as you plan your event. The first is to choose a location to host your litter pickup event. Litter tends to collect in waterways and other low-lying areas. It also collects on roadways, of course, but those can be more hazardous locations you might want to avoid. Aim for a morning to avoid the heat of the day. Make sure to let your invitees know where to park and when to meet.

Bring trash and recycling bags that are clearly labeled so they don't get mixed up, and have a plan for hauling the collected material to a trash can and recycling bin. It's smart to bring a five-gallon bucket to collect broken glass or anything else sharp. I always keep a first-aid kit in my backpack, just in case. You'll come across several recyclable beverage containers, which don't have to be pristinely clean (which, of course they won't be), but they do have to be empty.

Check with the park manager (usually through the city or county) or a nearby business to make sure you can use their facilities to dump litter and divert recyclables. Most of the time they will be happy to support a litter collection effort, but a good organizer will give them a heads-up and make sure they're not interfering with landscaping or any other events.

Make it safe

Roadway cleanups can, of course, be much more dangerous, so consider choosing a park or trail. If you are near a road, be sure you are wearing brightly colored safety vests and designate someone to keep an eye on traffic and volunteers since litter cleanup involves looking down. Volunteers should all wear gloves, sunscreen, hats, long pants to protect legs from getting scratched by vegetation, and closed-toed shoes. Make sure everyone is carrying a water bottle to stay hydrated in the Colorado sun. If you are working in waterways, don't wade into waters to grab trash as you can easily be knocked off your feet.

Inform volunteers

Let volunteers know what to bring and how to stay safe. Be prepared to provide sunscreen, large containers of water to refill water bottles and some extra gloves. Disposable gloves don't work because they're not rigid enough to protect from anything sharp, including thistles. If folks own trash grabbers, they are extremely useful.

Get the word out

Finally, the most important thing for volunteers to bring are their friends and family. We can pick up litter any day by ourselves, but it's much more fun and impactful to pull together a team. An effective organizer publicizes the event a few weeks before it takes place. Write up the details of your plan (when, where and what to bring) and share them with your school, work, sports team, religious group or other networks. Everyone is showing up for the same reason, so it is a great opportunity to introduce folks and make connections. Maybe ask everyone to wear the same-colored shirt so you can be identified as a team. At the end of your event, huddle up for a group picture with all the bags of litter and recyclables your team collected and post to social media to encourage others to do the same. It's important to recognize and celebrate your community's pro-environmental actions.

Plastic, plastic, plastic

Much of the litter your team picks up will be little scraps of plastic. You'll start to notice it is everywhere. The sun, wind and rain erode larger pieces of plastic litter into smaller pieces, including dust-like microplastics. It's easy to pick up an empty soda bottle, but when plastic breaks down into microplastics it becomes impossible to remove them from the environment. That's why it's so important to reduce the amount of single-use plastics we consume in the first place. You and your team are actively keeping plastic litter from degrading into microplastics and getting into our soils and waterways.

If you haven't yet participated in a litter cleanup event, try joining one to get a feel for how your event should go. The nonprofit Sustainable Resilient Longmont's Zero Waste Committee hosts a monthly community cleanup. To celebrate Plastic-Free July, SRL has teamed up with Eco-Cycle to clean up Left Hand Creek Greenway (off East Ken Pratt Boulevard and South Martin Street) on Saturday, July 30, from 10 a.m. to noon. Please RSVP by emailing naomi@srlongmont.org.

As always, if you have more questions, email Eco-Cycle at recycle@ecocycle.org or call 303-444-6634.

Tee Cee

Have zero waste questions? Want to become a volunteer Eco-Leader? Let us know at Rosie@ecocycle.org.