The success of a cleanup event will depend on the organization and implementation of a waterway cleanup project plan. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation's "Adopt-A-Stream" Manual will provide information for organizing and implementing a waterway cleanup from beginning to end. The agency encourages groups to use the information as needed and to modify the information to suit site-specific circumstances.
- Establishing a Core Committee
- Selecting a Site
- Scouting a Site
- Scheduling the Cleanup
- Disposing of Litter
- Arranging for Transportation
- Obtaining Permissions
- Arranging for Equipment and Materials
- Providing Refreshments and Other Rewards
- Preparing Site Captains and Participants
- Coordinating Cleanup Day
- Gathering at Day's End
A waterway cleanup committee is a core group of people dedicated to organizing and implementing cleanup of a stream or other waterway. The group may consist of the principal, the teacher(s), parents, and student representatives. Taking the steps below will allow the committee to get the project organized:
- Determine location and date of cleanup. Remember to choose a rain date. In determining location, make note of accessibility and safety issues.
- Conduct a site visit, arrange for trash disposal, recruit volunteers, gather materials and supplies, contact property owners, secure any necessary permissions, and solicit project support.
- Meet regularly before the project date to share successes and troubleshoot potential problems. Use a waterway cleanup checklist (available from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation's "Adopt-A-Stream" Manual) to monitor planning progress.
- Involve the other students in the class in some of the organizing tasks. Remember, the cleanup is a group effort, and it is important that everyone contributes.
Each of the committee's responsibilities is detailed in the following pages.
Site selection involves determining which waterway the group will clean. Many possibilities exist, including
- a stream
- a creek
- a pond
- a lake
- a river
- the Bay
- any other body of water where litter has accumulated.
Projects can be on public lands, such as parks, community property, and open space. Projects can also be on private property, in which case the group might consider including the landowners on the organizing committee.
Note: Whether the site is public or private property, the organizing committee must receive permission to be on the land prior to the project date.
A member of the organizing committee, with at least one adult present, should walk the selected waterway 8–10 weeks before the cleanup. A scouting survey of the waterway section to be cleaned will give a better idea about the amount and types of litter to which volunteers will be exposed. A member of the organizing committee should also walk the site two weeks prior to the project date. During this walk, the committee member should create a series of maps that will help cleanup crews locate accumulations of litter. Survey information might include sizes, types, and abundance of objects. The person surveying the area should also note whether objects can be hauled out on foot or whether a vehicle is necessary.
When scouting the area for a cleanup site, the appointed committee member(s) should consider the following questions:
- Is the site safe? (Consider steep slopes and class of rapids)
- Is the site accessible to students? (Consider ease of entry and exit)
- What was the site used for in the past?
- Is the site too large for a single cleanup day or will several cleanups be required?
- What types of trash or debris are present?
- Are there any sensitive areas that should be treated with care?
- Are there hazardous substances present that make a stream unsuitable for a cleanup by the class? (If there are questions or concerns, contact the Department of Health, Division of Health Hazards Control at 804-786-1763.)
The committee should select the project date and time 8–10 weeks before the event.
Cleanups may be set for weekdays or weekends. It is important to avoid a holiday weekend or a weekend when the switch is made to or from Daylight Savings Time. The organizing committee should also allow adequate time for project planning. If equipment will be borrowed, the organizing committee should make these arrangements first, and select a day when the equipment is available. Remember to establish a rain date.
A stream cleanup typically lasts about 4 hours. The organizing committee should allow an additional half-hour before the event for setup and a half-hour afterwards for wrap-up activities. Additional time may be required after the event if a picnic or barbecue is planned.
The committee should arrange for the disposal and/or recycling of collected litter. They should first contact local officials (the local Litter Control and Recycling coordinator or the Department of Public Works is a good place to begin) to determine what services government can provide, including
- removal of trash bags after the cleanup is complete
- removal of recyclables
- removal of large items from the site, such as cars, appliances, tires (students should not attempt to dislodge or remove large items; volunteers should mark the location of such items on their map for removal at a later date)
- transportation for disposing of trash and recyclables.
If local officials are unable to help, the organizing committee should perform the following tasks:
- Contact the closest recycling center and confirm the days and hours of operation, acceptable items, limits on quantity of materials delivered, and specifications for advance preparation. Call and confirm this information a few days prior to the project date.
- If the recycling center will not be open on the project date, secure a place to store recyclables until they can be delivered at a later date.
- Contact the closest landfill and confirm the days and hours of operation. It may be necessary to schedule the cleanup earlier in the day to allow enough time for delivery to the landfill.
- Consult local private companies that may be able to provide assistance.
The organizing committee should distribute a map showing starting points as well as routes between the central meeting place to pickup point(s). Cleanup crews should be instructed to deposit all filled trash bags at their assigned starting point. If volunteers with pickup trucks can be secured as shuttle vehicles, they should be assigned to visit specific starting points and collect any trash bags at these locations.
Volunteers will transport these bags from pickup points to the central meeting location, where they can be transferred to dump or trash trucks. The number of trucks needed depends on the amount of litter and size of the items (determined in the site survey). If there are not enough pickup trucks volunteered prior to the project date, the organizing committee should explore other options, such as the local Litter Control and Recycling coordinator or the local Department of Public Works/Utilities.
Obtain written permission from owners of property in the proposed cleanup section. Venturing onto private property without permission is trespassing. The organizing committee should invite the property owner to participate in the cleanup. If you are unsure of the landowner, county tax maps, located in county planning offices, can provide property ownership information. The organizing committee can also determine the property owner by talking to people who live close by.
Note: Before sending the cleanup teams out, the organizing committee should emphasize the importance of staying off private property, except where expressed permission has been given by the property owner.
Gather cleanup equipment and materials. Cleanup groups can often borrow equipment from state or local government offices and/or local environmental organizations. The organizing committee should make arrangements to have borrowed equipment delivered or picked up and then returned. Any equipment that cannot be borrowed should be purchased 2–3 weeks prior to the project date.
To conduct a successful cleanup, you will need to provide site captains and cleanup crews with the materials listed at the beginning of this project.
Providing refreshments is one way to thank volunteers for their valuable time and hard work. If beverages are not provided, the organizing committee should encourage participants to bring their own. Participants should be reminded to avoid drinking water from any stream and should be encouraged to take breaks and drink fluids to avoid overexertion. Simple refreshments (coffee and doughnuts, cookies and punch) may be offered during registration or at day's end as a time for volunteers to celebrate a job well done. A picnic or barbecue is another good way to thank volunteers. Local businesses and/or the volunteers themselves (potluck) may be willing to donate food/drink, coolers, cups, ice, paper goods, utensils, and other items.
The organizing committee could also consider providing rewards, such as certificates, bumper stickers, tote bags, caps, or T-shirts. The committee may solicit contributions, both monetary and in-kind services, from local businesses.
Provide training for site captains, conduct a safety meeting, and complete the site preparation. A representative of the organizing committee should make arrangements to meet with site captains prior to the project day or, if necessary, immediately before the start time on the project day. Site captains should be prepared to
- answer volunteers' questions
- direct volunteers to cleanup and disposal sites
- if required, make sure data sheets are completed correctly and turned in
- help organize and distribute the refreshments and rewards.
Everyone participating in the cleanup must have attended at least one Adopt-A-Stream safety meeting in the previous 12 months. This safety meeting may be conducted immediately before the cleanup at the central meeting location. A member of the organizing committee or site captain must review the Adopt-A-Stream safety guidelines with all volunteers.
All volunteers must complete and sign a liability release form. Immediately before the cleanup is also a good time to deliver any educational messages.
For stream cleanups, little site preparation is required. Sensitive areas should be cordoned off with flagging. Private property boundaries should also be identified with flagging to avoid inadvertent trespassing. Larger waterways may need more site preparation.
Even with extensive advance preparation, many activities must take place on cleanup day itself. The day begins with organization of volunteers and initiation of the waterway cleanup. All participants play important roles in the success of the day:
Volunteers in charge of registration have several important responsibilities:
- Provide a sign-in sheet for volunteers at the central meeting place on the day of the cleanup. The sheet should include spaces for the volunteer's name, address, and phone number. (Remember to provide pencils or pens.)
- Volunteers who have not completed and signed a safety liability release form must do so before participating in any cleanup activity.
- Nametags help volunteers get to know each other.
The project supervisor must orient the workers to the day's plan:
- Introduce each of the site captains, and explain their role.
- Brief volunteers on whether the litter collected is to be separated into recyclable and non- recyclable materials.
- Brief volunteers on where to place filled bags.
- Brief volunteers on the boundary of the project site.
- List the project supervisors in case of emergency.
- Inform volunteers about the availability of refreshments and location of restroom facilities.
- Help site captains form cleanup teams.
Nobody should work alone. All group members, whether students or adults, should always work in teams of two or more. Considerations for team participation include the following:
- Teams should be formed in part according to who has a car, canoe, or boat.
- Each team needs transportation to and from the team's assigned section.
- Teams should be assigned a maximum of one-mile waterway section.
- Each team should receive trash bags and a set of maps.
- Teams should get from the project supervisor a specific time to return to the central meeting area, even if their work is unfinished.
- Volunteers should call if they will be coming or returning late or not at all, so that all are accounted for and there is no cause for worry.
- Volunteers should follow the eight safety rules:
- Team up. Use the buddy system. Never work alone.
- If you get lost, find the nearest stream and follow it downstream. You will eventually reach a road crossing.
- Never drink from a stream or other waterway.
- Always watch where you are going. Never put your hands or feet in places where you cannot see.
- Do not trespass.
- Do not handle sharp metal objects or broken glass.
- Do not touch anything that looks toxic. Report the item to the Department of Health by calling 804-786-1763.
- Leave downed trees alone, unless they are causing flooding or erosion.
The site captain has responsibilities related to cleanup practicalities for each team:
- Help the team identify a starting point in the middle of their assigned section. (Generally, the amount of litter declines dramatically the further you get from the access point.)
- Instruct the team to walk, canoe, or boat a half-mile upstream from the starting point (distance traveled upstream and downstream should be half of the total distance to be covered) and collect trash on their return trip to the access point (if necessary, separating recyclables and non-recyclables).
This collection method helps volunteers avoid transporting full bags of trash great distances. After dropping off any full trash bags at the access point or other previously identified location, the team should then walk, canoe, or boat a half-mile downstream, again collecting trash as they return to the starting point. If there is a question of how to judge when they have traveled far enough, the site captain may suggest that volunteers should travel until they encounter the team cleaning the neighboring section.
Transporters and Drivers
Deposit and collection of trash involves the participation of drivers and other transporters:
- Teams should leave all filled trash bags at their starting point. Approximately 1–2 hours later, volunteers with pickup trucks should begin visiting starting points to collect any trash bags.
- Drivers should return all collected bags to the central meeting place, where trash can be sorted and recycled.
- For larger cleanup events, outboard boat assistance provided by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC), the U.S. Coast Guard, local fishing groups, or individual citizens may be used to transport trash from canoes or boats to the central meeting place.
- If there are no pickup arrangements with the local government, volunteers should haul trash to the landfill and recyclables to the recycling center as needed.
Coming together as a group at the end of the day is important:
- Cleanup crews should reconvene at the central meeting place by the assigned time.
- Project organizers should provide refreshments and rewards to help volunteers celebrate their accomplishments.
During the instructional planning stages, the teacher may wish to read About the Watershed: Instructional Framework, especially parts IV. Elements of a Watershed, V. The Chesapeake Bay Watershed as an Ecological System, VI. Conservation, Restoration, and Stewardship of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, and VII. Chesapeake Bay Watershed Issues and Trends: Alternatives and Consequences.