How to Organize a Litter Pickup for Your Running Group

When you run, you get to know all kinds of roads and trails. And many of us also get to know the debris alongside our roads and trails too. Over 51 billion pieces of litter land on U. S. roadways each year, according to Keep America Beautiful’s National Visible Litter Survey and Litter Cost Study. That’s 6,729 pieces of detritus per mile. Yikes!

Twice a year, my running club finishes our run on our regular Saturday morning route, then grabs trash bags and gloves to head out along our route for a second time. We spend that second lap cleaning up the roads and paths we use weekly as a way to give back and be good stewards in the neighborhood. And you know what, it’s just as fun as our regular runs ever are!

If you’d like to organize your own runners’ day of service, here are six easy steps you can employ.

1. CHOOSE A DATE AND CHOOSE IT EARLY. Set the date at least six weeks out so that folks can get it on their calendars. It can be hard to find a day when there isn’t at least one race going on in your area, and we all know that person or two who loves to race. It’s impossible to find a totally conflict-free weekend, so just avoid dates where a large contingent of your group will be racing.

2. DO IT AFTER A RUN. You can also hold a cleanup as it’s own freestanding event, but this way everyone is already together and they’re already gross and sweaty. Sure, you’ll stay grubby a little while longer, but you’re also helping your community and the environment.

3. TAP INTO COMMUNITY RESOURCES. Keep America Beautiful is a national nonprofit devoted to ending littering, improving recycling and beautifying communities. One of their major initiatives, the Great American Cleanup, is a nationwide effort to empower residents to beautify their communities. In 2018, volunteers collected 24.7 million pounds of litter through Great American Cleanup events! Check to see if you have a Keep America Beautiful affiliate near you and, if so, register your event as part of the Great American Cleanup. Doing so may get you free supplies, such as trash bags and gloves, or even the opportunity to have your full trash bags picked up. If that isn’t an option in your community, check with local officials to see if there are any kind of community beautification programs or get local businesses involved by asking for donations of materials.

4. SPREAD THE WORD. Share the info anywhere you can reach your running posse: social media, WhatsApp, email newsletters … any way you normally share news. I have found that creating events with Facebook or Google Calendar is helpful because these send reminders.

5. FOOD = EXCITED VOLUNTEERS. Reward those volunteers for showing up to help the planet! It’s no secret that people are pretty food-motivated, especially if the food is free. That’s doubly the case for runners. Picking up donuts and coffee is a sure-fire way to get more volunteers. If you’re patronizing a local business, it can’t hurt to mention what you’re doing; they may even give you a discount.

6. KEEP A RECORD. Yes, we runners love our stats. Collecting data will not only help your group realize how big of an impact they can make in just a short time period, but will also help you promote in the future if you decide to make this a recurring event. Take before and after photos, count the number of trash bags filled or pounds of trash collected, or make note of the grossest or most unusual items your squad found. If you’re sharing on social media, be sure to shout out any community partners or sponsors who helped you pull off the event.

Southern transplant who loves 90s boy bands, outdoor adventures and college basketball, although not necessarily in that order. Recovering running perfectionist.

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  1. I love this!! I am super eco-motivated and often pick up trash on my own runs but it would be so much more impactful as a group!! Totally gonna set this up!