Cleanup “Afterparty”: The Destiny of Picked-up Trash

Written by
Iryna Komazova
September 11, 2022

World Cleanup Day 2022 is fast approaching. After growing from a local initiative in 2008 to an international movement in 2018, the event has since engaged more than 60 million volunteers from 191 countries. By now, this global movement has moved far beyond just picking up litter. If you have just joined us, or are thinking about becoming part of our eco-friendly family, follow the recommendations in this article to make the most of your local World Cleanup Day event.

Recycle Everything You Can

Recycling litter you’ve picked-up can be a tricky task, but it’s not impossible. First of all, you need to know what is recyclable in your area. In general, this is often paper, metal, glass and plastic bottles. Check out whether it makes sense to collect wood, textiles, tyres, electronics or construction and demolition waste for recycling. Consult your local recycling providers for more details. Sometimes, you will need to involve several companies to recycle different types of materials. Always check in advance that the recycling company accepts cleanup waste, rather than just assuming it does. Some of them prefer clean houshold waste only.

When you’ve drawn up a list of recyclable materials, you should find a way to collect the recyclables separately. For example:

  • Use bags of different colours for each type of recyclable;
  • Clean up in small groups, with each person holding one bag for litter and one for a different type of recyclable;
  • If it’s easier for you, collect recyclables in one bag then sort them after the cleanup.

As collected waste can be often contaminated with mud or plant remains, try to clean it onsite: at minimum, shake out anything inside the recyclable items, or at best, give them a  wash (in the river, for example, if you’re cleaning a riverbank).

Don’t forget to instruct your volunteers on what to collect for recycling and how. Participants may not be familiar with local recycling rules.

Another question to consider beforehand is how you will transport recyclables to the place where they’ll be processed. Some companies will be happy to support your green initiative by coming to the site of your cleanup and collecting the filled bags. (In some cases, they may even pay you according to the weight of your recyclables). But sometimes you’ll have to take bags to the company by yourself—in which case, you’ll need to arrange transportation. 

Try to involve partners to organise recycling for your cleanup

Compost Biowaste

Depending on the site of your cleanup, you will face biowaste to some extent (garden waste, food leftovers, yard trimmings). The general rule for dealing with such waste is to not mix it with other types. The reasons are pretty clear:

  • It worsens the quality of recyclables, and recyclers can even refuse to process the contaminated batch. 
  • Buried in landfill, organic waste releases gases that contribute to climate change. 
  • Green waste is no good for incineration plants either: as biowaste contains a lot of water, excessive energy is needed to burn it.

The ideal way to deal with any biowaste you gather during the cleanup is composting. Here are a few options to choose from:

  • Make a compost pile in a shady spot onsite;
  • Transport organic waste to a compost facility in your area;
  • Leave biowaste where you found it, so it can biodegrade naturally in the environment.
Use a sieve to get biowaste out of your recyclables

Collect Hazardous Waste Separately

Sometimes, you may dig up really dangerous items while cleaning a site. Be careful when you find the following:

  • Medical or pharmaceutical waste (syringes and needles, gloves, masks, bandages, pills);
  • Dead animals and body parts;
  • Paint, glues, adhesive residues;
  • Any other liquid chemicals of unknown origin.

These types of hazardous waste put human health and/or the environment in direct danger. If something looks suspicious, regard it as hazardous waste. The safety of volunteers during cleanups is the number one priority.

So, what to do if you find hazardous waste? Do not touch it. Flag it and inform the relevant services. (Find out how to contact them beforehand, just in case).

Electronic and electrical waste is also considered hazardous. Batteries, broken phones, TVs, fridges and other appliances usually contain dangerous compounds like lead, mercury, cadmium, copper and zinc. They poison the ground if mismanaged in nature. But electronic and electrical waste is the only type of waste that is safe to take with you. Separate it from mixed waste, and send it to an electronics recycling facility. 

Instruct the volunteers on what is safe to touch during the cleanup


We hope you’re able to follow some of this guidance, but even if you can’t put your good intentions into practice this time, don’t worry—you are still doing the right thing! Collecting mismanaged waste so that it’s all in one place (even if it has to be a landfill or incineration plant) is still better than leaving it spread out across the environment. Every cleanup minimises risks for human health and the environment. Besides, by organising a cleanup, you attract the attention of local authorities and the public—raising awareness of the threats that waste poses. So, keep going and improve your next cleanup with us!

Everyone who takes part in a cleanup is a hero. But you can always do more to make your cleanups extra impactful! Here are some options for cleanup waste management.
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