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A Primer for becoming a Trash Cleanup Hero

We’re big believers in grassroots movements, the power of passionate people to create change! At the heart of our mission is the desire to give back through donations, partnerships, education and most powerfully for us, hands-on work. People have been asking us about ways to make a difference, and one of those ways is to do trash cleanups, so we thought we’d share some info on how to go about becoming a clean water warrior!

We challenge ourselves to be regularly hands-on when it comes to the change we want to see, and what started out as participation in a few beach cleanups has evolved for us into a regular schedule of cleaning up our local waterways. It can be overwhelming to look at the complexities and urgency of the big picture, but what if we all started tackling the issues that exist in our own backyards? That’s powerful!

<img data-lazy-fallback="1" decoding="async" loading="lazy" aria-describedby="caption-attachment-7877" class="wp-image-7877 size-full" src=";ssl=1" alt="Canoe Trash Cleanup" width="1080" height="734" srcset=";ssl=1 2346w,;ssl=1 800w,;ssl=1 768w,;ssl=1 1024w,;ssl=1 610w,;ssl=1 1080w,;ssl=1 2160w" sizes="(max-width: 1080px) 100vw, 1080px" data-recalc-dims="1" />

Tracy Strandness, Owner of Barefoot Eco Outfitters at a canoe trash cleanup

One of the easiest ways to get started is to join with a group hosting a cleanup event. Since we are based in the greater Seattle area, these suggestions are local, but you can Google “Beach Cleanups” or “Nature Cleanups” and your state name if you aren’t near water, and lots of opportunities should pop up! We’ve listed a few suggestions here in The Evergreen State (no experience required!), but if you’d like to venture out on your own, keep reading, as we’ve provided lots of info to get you started! Let me say again, that cleanups on land are every bit as important, so go for it!

In Washington state, you can check out these organizations. There are lots more beach cleanups that occur in our area, so Google that too for more options!

1) Puget Soundkeeper Alliance hosts volunteer marine debris cleanups during the summer via kayak on Lake Union in Seattle (visit their event page here: They provide the kayaks, trash grabbers, bags and nets, and you also get a free t-shirt and lunch afterward. They happen every Wednesday from 10-12:00. It looks like all spots are reserved for the rest of this summer, but they are hosting an end-of-summer beach cleanup on August 31st. You can find out more here: There are other volunteer opportunities available with them, and you can find out more here:

2) Washington Coastsavers hosts regular beach cleanups and offers volunteer opportunities. Check them out here:

<img data-lazy-fallback="1" decoding="async" loading="lazy" aria-describedby="caption-attachment-7873" class="wp-image-7873 size-full" src=";ssl=1" alt="Trash from Lake Cleanup" width="1080" height="810" srcset=";ssl=1 4032w,;ssl=1 800w,;ssl=1 768w,;ssl=1 1024w,;ssl=1 610w,;ssl=1 510w,;ssl=1 1080w,;ssl=1 2160w,;ssl=1 3240w" sizes="(max-width: 1080px) 100vw, 1080px" data-recalc-dims="1" />

Lake trash from our most recent cleanup


After participating in many scheduled beach cleanups, we decided we didn’t want to wait for those events; we wanted to make cleanups a regular part of our mission, so we ventured out on our own. You can head to your local beach, river, lake, or stream, and walk the banks and surrounding sidewalk areas if any, as everything runs downhill! If you have a watercraft, you can set out in that as well, and follow the shoreline where you will find much of the trash. You can also start close to home and focus on your neighborhood or local streets, paying particular attention to areas around storm drains.


1) Invest in a good trash grabber. We liked the portable convenience of collapsible grabbers we found online, but durability was a problem, and if used in water they would fill up and become hard to manage. Trash grabbers run about $15 – $25.00 and here is one selection to choose from: We’ve found that there aren’t many options in store, so you may have to order online.

2) Work gloves

3) Bucket or heavy duty bags to collect trash (note: buckets are reusable and easier to deposit trash into, especially on a breezy day; not that they can become heavy and will need to be emptied more often, so also carry bags with you if you will be walking some distance)

4) OPTIONAL: You can download a free app on your phone like Clean Swell that will allow you to track and record the trash you’ve collected and its location. If you’re collecting trash at an ocean, the data you save will be instantaneously uploaded to Ocean Conservancy’s global ocean trash database to provide valuable insight and help researchers and policy makers find solutions.

<img data-lazy-fallback="1" decoding="async" loading="lazy" aria-describedby="caption-attachment-7876" class="wp-image-7876 size-full" src=";ssl=1" alt="Balloon Trash " width="1080" height="830" srcset=";ssl=1 3930w,;ssl=1 800w,;ssl=1 768w,;ssl=1 1024w,;ssl=1 610w,;ssl=1 1080w,;ssl=1 2160w,;ssl=1 3240w" sizes="(max-width: 1080px) 100vw, 1080px" data-recalc-dims="1" />

All these balloon bits were collected on our recent lake cleanup


Good question! The short answer is ALL trash, but there have been certain trash items that make the worst offenders list, and they are:

1) Cigarette butts. No, they don’t biodegrade, and they are chock full of harmful chemicals

2) Plastic, plastic, plastic. This doesn’t just mean bottles, cups, lids, and straws, though those are quite nasty on their own, but especially in or near the water you will find tiny bits and pieces of plastic and they are easy to swallow and very dangerous to wildlife. It’s challenging and maybe not as rewarding to focus on the small bits, but trust us, you are making the biggest difference by taking the time to collect those pieces! Although we talk about the option of weighing your collected trash for your own record keeping or motivation, a lighter bag filled with small pieces of plastic is a victory for the environment!

3) Styrofoam. Oh, and it is a bugger to pick up when it breaks apart! It’s worth your effort though, as it is extremely harmful.

If you’re able to recycle any bottles or cans you’ve collected, that is optimal, though not always possible. Some people like to categorize their trash for tracking and reporting purposes, and others prefer to just deposit it directly in a receptacle. Either way, you’ve made a difference and it’s a win!

<img data-lazy-fallback="1" decoding="async" loading="lazy" aria-describedby="caption-attachment-7885" class="wp-image-7885 size-full" src=";ssl=1" alt="Beach Trash Cleanup" width="1080" height="826" srcset=";ssl=1 3024w,;ssl=1 800w,;ssl=1 768w,;ssl=1 1024w,;ssl=1 610w,;ssl=1 1080w,;ssl=1 2160w" sizes="(max-width: 1080px) 100vw, 1080px" data-recalc-dims="1" />

Skyler Strandness of Barefoot Eco Outfitters at a beach cleanup


Oh, this is a tough one. Reusable buckets make the most environmental sense, and they can work well on land, but are cumbersome on a watercraft. Using heavy plastic garbage bags seems very counter-intuitive, but they are a durable option that won’t rip easily with sharp trash items. Biodegradable bags are misleading and not the logical choice you might think as landfill conditions do not actually allow the bags to biodegrade.

The truest earth-friendly bag option is compostable trash bags, as they are regulated and will turn into compost over time. These are typically not very suitable for trash collecting as they are thinner and tend to break easily, and could also expose you to injury, plus they need a composting facility to break down in (perfect for food scrap composting, but not so much in a landfill). So, frustrating as it may be, as with most things eco-friendly, there is no one perfect answer. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good here however. If you already have large plastic trash bags at home, it’s fine to use them, or invest in buckets or some other reusable receptacle.


Make your cleanups a group event! Invite friends to join you and form your own Healthy Water Team (make up your own cool name), or recruit some fellow employees from work and do a community service project.

Get a hand held scale to hook your bags on to record the weight of your haul, and keep track of the pounds you’ve collected. Do this for yourself or make it a competition.


Do not pick up any needles or medical waste Sharps container and proper gloves to avoid injury, and be cautious about sharp items like rusted metal or broken glass. These items can poke through bags, so take care to not injure yourself!

Also, whether in a watercraft or on foot, be sensitive to any shoreline nesting areas or fragile environments. Go gently and calmly, also being mindful of private property.

<img data-lazy-fallback="1" decoding="async" loading="lazy" aria-describedby="caption-attachment-7875" class="wp-image-7875 size-full" src=";ssl=1" alt="Kayak Lake Cleanup" width="1080" height="810" srcset=";ssl=1 4032w,;ssl=1 800w,;ssl=1 768w,;ssl=1 1024w,;ssl=1 610w,;ssl=1 510w,;ssl=1 1080w,;ssl=1 2160w,;ssl=1 3240w" sizes="(max-width: 1080px) 100vw, 1080px" data-recalc-dims="1" />

Tracy Strandness prepping for a lake kayak cleanup


If you do decide to do a trash or beach cleanup, please share your stories and photos with us! We’d love to highlight them, spread the good news and celebrate your efforts! Feel free to e-mail us at!


You may feel a bit self conscious at first, and you’ll likely get people staring or asking what you’re doing. Don’t be shy! Have confidence in your decision to make a difference, and know that you are a role model and ambassador for environmental health. You WILL inspire others with your actions!

Never underestimate your ability to make an impact! Let’s do this together!

For the planet,

Tracy Strandness, Owner/Founder


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