Research & Education

5 Ways to Make Your Cleanup More Sustainable

Brice - March 1, 2023

Are part of a group that gets out regularly to cleanup your local park or protected area? Maybe you are always on the hunt for a volunteer opportunity. Or maybe you just strive to pick up a few pieces of litter on your weekly walks. No matter how you give back and clean up, these tips will help you be even more sustainable in your efforts.

1. Collect Trash In Buckets Rather Than Bags

Plastic bags are a go to item at cleanups, but when they end up being only a quarter full or dumped into an onsite dumpster, some other options may be better. Using something like an old bucket, or other easy to carry container, can minimize the plastic we use as we clean our outdoor areas. Once collected in buckets, the contents from your cleanup can be dumped into a trash receptacle, or combined with other volunteers trash into just a few bags. Overall, your plastic use will be minimized and lessen what gets sent to landfills. #DontFeedTheLandfills

2. Use Washable Gloves

Gloves are another necessary component of any cleanup. They keep you safe and things more sanitary, but they can also create more trash. Disposable plastic gloves can tear easily, meaning we may need to go through many pairs in a single cleanup. Rather than grabbing a box of plastic gloves, invest in a pair of garden gloves or something similar. These can be washed as needed, and reduce the need to use disposable gloves.

3. Sort The Recyclables

Just because it’s litter, doesn’t mean it can’t be recycled. While it may take a little more time and planning, and can depend on what recycling options are available in your area, sorting the items collected separately into trash and recycling can give litter a second life. This will also reduce the overall waste we send to the landfill. Wondering where to find Tips to Recycle Right? Look no further.

4. Refill and Reduce

It’s important to stay hydrated while giving back, but that doesn’t need to mean single use plastic bottles or cups. Planning ahead by bringing a water bottle or cup, and asking any other volunteers to do the same, can eliminate the need for single use items. Set up a refilling station, or point volunteers toward the water fountain.

5. Educate and Inspire

Other visitors are bound to be inspired when they see your cleanup efforts, so why not take it a step further and educate. Use our free Trash Timeline activity to talk with other volunteers and visitors about why your cleanup efforts are so necessary and why packing everything out is so important. That fishing line you grabbed? It can last 600 years! Those orange and banana peels? Up to 2 years and significantly affect the health of local wildlife.

Any time you pick up trash, you are creating a positive impact, but by incorporating these tips, that impact can be even greater. No matter how you give back, your outdoor areas appreciate you.


Leave No Trace’s Erin Collier and Brice Esplin are part of the 2020 Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Program that provides free, mobile education to communities across the country. 

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