Cleanups: Opportunities for Policy Solutions


Waterkeepers have made cleanups into an opportunity for face-to-face advocacy on issues such as plastic bag bans and alternative bag fees

The message: We shouldn’t need cleanups.

So even as Waterkeepers around the world mobilize volunteers for cleanups, they’re constantly working to stop pollution before it clogs our rivers. Among the work Waterkeepers are doing to keep trash out of rivers:

  • The Centre for Social Research and Development, home to Huong River Waterkeeper, won a grant in 2018 from the Municipal Recycling Waste Management Program of USAID to promote reducing, reusing, and recycling in six local schools. Target: Reduce their trash production by 5 percent. The group set up source separation systems at each school and, after training students on the impact of plastic waste and how to separate their waste, collected 1.6 tons of recyclables in the first six months. The students then sold the recyclables to support their environmental protection clubs.
  • Waterkeepers are pushing towns and cities to enforce anti-trash laws already on the books. For instance, Milwaukee has a shopping cart ordinance that would fine stores if their carts are found off their property, as well as a provision that lets stores avoid fines if work to retrieve their carts. On cleanups, “we do find many, so enforcing this could help,” says Milwaukee Riverkeeper Cheryl Nenn.
  • California Waterkeepers, through California Coastkeeper Alliance, are challenging rollbacks to municipal stormwater provisions and advocating for a trash provision — including routine trash collection along waterways — in the permits.
  • Iraq’s government recently announced that polluters who dump in the river would be fined. “Someone sent a video to us of big trucks dumping into the river,” said Nabil Musa, the Iraq Upper Tigris Waterkeeper. “We traced it and took it to the Ministry. It’s like fastening your seatbelt. We never had that law. But when people started getting tickets, they fastened their seatbelts.”

While Waterkeepers and others work on policy solutions, there’s still plenty to clean up! At last year’s Waterkeeper cleanups, more than 31,000 volunteers picked up trash and restored habitats. Together, they picked up 341,706 pounds of trash, more than 30,000 pounds of which was recycled.

To participate in a cleanup near you, contact your local Waterkeeper.

Feature image: Students learning about the reduce, reuse, recycle model. Photo by Huong River Waterkeeper.


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United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit waterkeeper.org