Earth Day is not your average holiday. Unlike its sexier, distant cousin New Year’s Eve, you will unlikely overhear anyone talking about their plans to throw a really awesome party on Earth Day. Unless you happen to be within an earshot of Michelle Sestili.
Michelle is a member of the Hot Springs/Garland County Beautification Commission (HSGCBC) in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The HSGCBC is a local affiliate of Keep America Beautiful. In addition to educating the Hot Springs natives about recycling, waste reduction and keeping the environment healthy, Michelle and her fellow HSGCBC members throw a pretty rad parties. Litter pick-up parties, that is.
The concept of litter pick-up parties is simple: on a designated day for a few hours, a citizen or local organization will gather as many of its friends and neighbors as possible to help pick up an area that needs cleaning. Spending a morning or afternoon cleaning up other people’s messes probably doesn’t sound that great, but done the right way and with a little enthusiasm, it can be one of the most fun and fulfilling ways to spend your Earth Day (or any other day, for that matter!).
Michelle is a seasoned expert at organizing litter pick-up parties. Here are some of her tips for putting together a successful event with high turn out [to add some of your own tips, visit the original post].
Get the word out
The HSGCBC throws several large-scale trash pick-up events each year that draw in hundreds of people. The first step to starting each of these litter pick-up parties is marketing. Michelle uses local radio, the town’s public access channel, brochures, posters, and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to spread the word. She also talks to everyone she knows– especially about her “trash stories.” Michelle finds that people become very interested in attending a litter pick-up party when they hear of all the bizarre hidden treasures that are lying around on the side of roads and in riverbeds.
Give them an offer they can’t refuse
Michelle said you would be surprised at how many people will come to a trash pick-up party with nothing more than the incentive to beautify their hometown. But of course, a few extra perks never hurt anyone. Every fall the HSGCBC hosts an event called Trash Bash: a three-hour public clean up of major river shorelines and roads. The group works with local businesses to secure sponsorships for the event. These sponsorships include in-kind donations of items that can be raffled off to participants (such as a laptop, an iPod, or a nice dinner). In addition to prizes, you would be remiss to find someone who would pass up free food. Providing donated or homemade food at a litter pick-up party will keep trash trollers content and satisfied. The simple offer of free donuts and hot coffee enticed over 100 people to participate in the Great American Clean Up in Hot Springs last year, which removed over 2,520 pounds of litter!
Entertain the masses
You can gussy up an event all you want with the promise of free food and a chance to win sweet prizes, but at the end of the day people are picking up trash. It’s not exactly a fun job, but you can certainly make it fun. Michelle said that HSGCBC brings a DJ to play music at the pick-ups. After the day is done, the group typically hosts an after party at a local hot spot like a restaurant or garden. As Michelle said, “Everyone smells like garbage anyway, so we might as well party!”
Harness group power
One way to ensure that your event gets enough participants is to tap into the power of pre-existing groups. The HSGCBC hosts the Cash for Trash program that has become extremely popular. Cash for Trash (partially funded by Entergy Arkansas, Inc.) reaches out to local groups like little league teams, church organizations, high school groups, etc. and offers them the opportunity to earn money by attending a litter pick-up party. For every 20 bags of trash that a group collects, it will receive $200. This is a great way to reward the community for beautifying its neighborhoods.
Provide the basics
With all this talk of food, DJs and prizes, we forgot to mention the obvious: provide your party attendees with the things they will need to pick up trash. This includes gloves, trash picks, and garbage or recycling bags. If the area you’re cleaning is very large, maps marked with food and water stations are a good idea too.
HSGCBC puts on some pretty large trash pick-up parties, but you can do this on a smaller scale too. Simply identify an area that needs some sprucing and start talking to your neighbors. Michelle suggests adopting a road very close to, if not in your block and turn the pick-up time into a social hour for the neighbors. Start going door to door to gauge interest and market it as something everyone can enjoy. If you’d like more tips or need assistance in identifying places that need cleaning, contact your local Keep America Beautiful chapter.
Happy party planning, and I hope you all make some new friends and find some interesting things out there during your pick up!
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