Your First Cleanup? What to Know and Expect: 15 Tips for First Time Volunteers

By Austin Downs

Thank you for signing up to volunteer with the Great Global Cleanup™! By pitching in, you are helping to strengthen your community’s response to waste. If this is your first time as a volunteer at a cleanup, you might have questions. We are here to answer them.


  1. Clothing: Wear closed toe shoes (not sandals or flip flops) socks, long pants and shirts to avoid contact with anything unsafe or contaminated. Wear a glove on the hand you are using to pick up trash.
  2. Safety: Don’t pick up anything that you are not comfortable with. If it looks dangerous or heavy, safety first. Note its location and inform your site leader so that they can decide the best course of action for removal.
  3. Hazardous items: Leave items like needles, syringes and medical waste alone. Tell your site leader what you found and where. Biohazards need to be disposed of according to special rules.
  4. Hats and Sunblock: Protect yourself from over-exposure by applying reef-safe sunblock before a cleanup and wearing a hat.
  5. Hydrate and Stay Cool: Bring and drink water. Avoid over-exertion, sunburn, heat exhaustion and dehydration. You can always return to the site’s check-in station for a break.
  6. Dead Animals: Don’t touch or pick up dead animals or attempt to move injured animals. Instead, notify the Site Captain and tell them what you found. Make them aware of the animals and their location. The site leader will contact the responsible authorities.
  7. Live Animals: When encountering birds or animals on your cleanup, respect their space and avoid the temptation to feed them your snacks.
  8. Hazardous Waste: Items like oil drums, batteries and canisters are not safe to touch or pick up. Leave them and notify your site leader.
  9. Recyclables Versus Non-recyclables: Not every item can be recycled. In fact, including ‘dirty’ recyclable items can contaminate ‘clean’ recyclables. To prevent this, use a better-safe-than-sorry approach. If a recyclable item is not relatively clean, put it in the non-recyclable pile.
  10. Work in Teams: Stay with at least one other person while you clean up.
  11. Watch the Tide: If you’re cleaning up on a beach, be aware of the rising or ebbing tide and keep your distance, especially in wavy conditions.
  12. Got Kids? Bring them along but keep them safe. All children under the age of 14 should be supervised by an adult or guardian at all times.
  13. Use our Earth Challenge 2020 App: Want to have your cleanup be a part of the world’s largest citizen science initiative? Download the app Earth Challenge 2020 app (available in early 2020) to map, track, and submit cleanup data. You’ll be contributing to solutions to global waste problems.
  14. Have fun! When appropriate, take to social media to post pictures of your cleanup in action to not only recognize your event, but inspire others to take part! Be sure to tag us @EarthDayNetwork and use the hashtag #GreatGlobalCleanup.

Be Safe.

Have Fun.

Send us pictures.

Thanks for making Earth Day Every Day!