Whether you’re looking to plan a group volunteer activity for a club, civic organization, scout troop or because you just want to organize something good for your community, cleaning up your local waterway is a great event to choose. Here’s why:

Why Plan a River Cleanup Event as Your Next Group Volunteer Activity?

There’s Always a Need

Nearly every community has a nearby waterway, whether a river, lake, bay or creek. Unfortunately, these areas tend to be litter magnets. In fact, nearly 40% of U.S. rivers have been declared too polluted for swimming, fishing or other recreational activities.

Cleaning these waterways doesn’t just have environmental advantages. A cleaner river or other waterway can improve community morale, provide a new gathering place and inspire other community cleanup projects.

There’s Plenty of Work to Go Around

The sheer amount of trash clogging our waterways makes a cleanup an ideal volunteer idea for even a large group. According to American Rivers, a national river advocacy organization, the average cleanup event can accommodate 30 or more volunteers.

At the same time, since you can always choose to focus on a smaller section of your local river, you’ll still be able to make a major positive impact even if fewer volunteers show up than you expected.

Group of volunteers cleaning tires from a river.

Photo: Missouri River Relief

The Work Is Accessible to Almost Anyone

Nearly anyone, regardless of their age or abilities, can participate in a river cleanup. Cleaning a waterway is a service project where no special skills or equipment are required and the work can be accomplished at nearly any fitness level by both children and adults.

Even those who can’t participate in the actual trash pickup will have many opportunities for involvement, from organizing donations to cover the costs of materials to separating the recyclables to weighing and recording how much trash was collected.

Three child volunteers for a river cleanup event.

Photo: Missouri River Relief

5 Questions to Ask Before Planning a River Cleanup Event

Hosting a successful community cleanup project requires planning. Here are the questions you’ll need to answer as you get your project off the ground:

Where will the cleanup take place?

If there are multiple rivers or waterways in your vicinity, you’ll need to determine which you’ll focus on. Depending on how large your waterway is, you may also need to determine which section of it you’ll be cleaning up.

How will we find volunteers?

If you don’t have an established group of volunteers, you’ll have to decide how to get the word out about your cleanup event. Which local media outlets, if any, will you use? Will you create listings for the event on volunteer meetup sites and/or Facebook? Will you utilize Facebook ads?

People posing with a pile of trash after a group volunteer activity.

Photo: Friends of the Mississippi River

What materials will we need?

Luckily this volunteer activity can be accomplished with nothing more than trash bags, gloves and garbage pickers or grill tongs. But you’ll still need to determine how many of each item you’ll need, whether volunteers will be asked to provide any of the materials themselves and, if so, how many extras you should have on hand for anyone who forgets.

Will we need permits?

If your river cleanup will take place entirely on public property, such as within a park, then no permit is needed. However, if your cleanup will cross over onto private or city-owned property, you’ll need to track down the owners and get their written permission before the cleanup.

What will we do with the trash?

Once the cleanup is complete, you’ll want to make sure that all the trash you collected ends up in the right place. Will the city provide trash hauling for you or will you need to rent a dumpster ? Are there recycling services in your area? If so, will you separate all the recyclable materials from the rest of the trash or focus on just a few types of items?

Group of river cleanup volunteers.

Photo: Friends of the Mississippi River

Need some help organizing your project? Check out our River Cleanup Guide for start-to-finish advice on planning a river cleanup event. We rounded up in-depth tips from river protection organizations across the country covering everything from advertising your cleanup to securing the necessary permits.

Complete River Cleanup Guide