Every year, thousands of sea turtles, fish and birds are injured or killed
by trash. One of the most frequent injuries that marine biologists see is
entrapment in the plastic rings used to hold six cans of soda or beer together.
Animals get caught in these rings and can't get loose.
Fortunately, there are thousands of volunteers who help clean up coastlines
around the world. These clean-up volunteers help by picking up trash and other
debris that harm wildlife and destroy the environment.
Clean-up volunteers are needed in many areas. Parks and wildlife services
often depend on volunteers to keep national parks clean. People and organizations
also often volunteer to keep areas around highways or other roadways clean.
In most cases, a clean-up volunteer picks up and properly disposes of trash.
But in extreme cases, such as an oil spill, a clean-up volunteer may help
to save wildlife and the environment from extreme polluting agents.
Each year, millions of people in the United States volunteer to help with
clean-up projects sponsored by organizations. Many also perform the same duties
when they are not volunteering.
In most cases, clean-up volunteers work outside, picking up trash and debris.
However, there are some clean-up volunteers who also organize clean-up programs
in their communities. These volunteers not only work outside, they also meet
with community leaders and work to find volunteers and supporters of the program.
Mike is a clean-up volunteer who lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He
helps to clean up the environment along with the rest of his family. He says
his volunteering has led to a constant awareness of the need to clean up.
"I pick up trash everywhere, no matter where I am," says Mike.
Mike first started cleaning up when he lived in California. "I clean up
my neighborhood for community service hours [for school], but also because
the sight of trash at Disneyland makes me furious," he says.
"The interesting thing is that I get compliments -- people appreciate [my
clean-up efforts]," says Mike. He organizes competitions in his community
to see who can find the coolest trash.
Natalie Kopytko coordinates river clean up through an aquarium. Her group
is called River Works. She says there is a real need for volunteers to help
clean up the environment. "Groups from schools and other organizations help
to clean up the debris in the river environment," she says.
River Works gets together with school groups that adopt an area and then
spend time cleaning it up and learning about it. "We have workshops before
the classes take over a site," says Kopytko. "They teach about different species
and elements of the environment. And we try to work them around the curriculum
that is being taught."
One school group has several classes involved in the program. The group
covers a large area. But still other areas are left without clean-up crews.
Like his brother Mike, Bill is also involved in neighborhood clean up.
"I pick up trash in my neighborhood and recycle it for community service hours
required for school," he says. "My school also has a club called Earthlings."
The Earthlings club cleans up the environment, and takes part in other
activities. "Cleaning up gives me a better place to live in," says Bill. "But
it's work! And the future holds more work, unfortunately."
Bill says trash is a problem everywhere. "The strangest thing was filling
up four trash cans of garbage from a four-mile loop in a nice neighborhood,"
How to Get Involved
Many organizations, such as the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, YMCA programs
and many others designed especially for youths, have programs for clean-up
volunteers. Wildlife and national parks associations and private organizations
also sponsor clean-up programs.
If you'd like to help keep the environment clean, contact the organization
that interests you, and inquire about its clean-up program. Some have ongoing
programs. Others sponsor one to three days a year that are dedicated to large
projects with lots of volunteers. All of these organizations are pleased to
There is no age limit to volunteer. And there are no costs or special tools
needed to volunteer. The only special training sometimes required is knowledge
of recycling. Organizations that use recycling often have long-time volunteers
who show new volunteers how to separate and handle recyclables. In the case
of extreme pollution, such as an oil spill, there may be some specialized
training needed, but most organizations are willing to train you while you
The physical requirements for clean-up volunteers vary according to the
jobs that need to be done. In some cases, like highway clean up, people confined
to wheelchairs can also participate.
Keep America Beautiful - Affiliates
1010 Washington Blvd.
Keep America Beautiful
Find a clean-up program near you
Clean Sweep USA
Learn about waste management, litter and beautification
The American Littoral Society
Learn about this environmental organization's coastal clean-up
Read about this international coastal clean-up organization