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Flotsam and Jetsam: 10 tips to run a successful river clean-up


Over the years, when Vernon, British Columbia-based Elements Adventure Co. owner/operator Charles Ruechel ran paddling river cleanups, he began to collect more than just trash. He collected a shortlist of invaluable tips that anyone can implement to easily execute their own river clean-up initiative. “A cleanup event can be so much more than just picking up garbage”, says Ruechel. “From the people you meet, to the gorgeous fall paddling, a cleanup event builds connections and relationships that are becoming so vital to protecting our waterways.”

  1. Let the locals know about it! Most people who own river-front property will be delighted to hear about your initiative. We even had one property owner offer to host a BBQ lunch for the participants! Building relationships between the various river users is always a good idea – you never know when you might need to use a nearby phone in a hurry, or want easy access to that sweet play-wave. 
  2. Schedule your clean-up event for the fall, or low-water season. The lower water will not only expose more garbage; it’s also safer to retrieve the trash that is hung up in log jams or on rocks.
  3. Bring along at least one token canoeist! Having a tandem canoe in your team acting as the ‘garbage barge’ makes picking trash fast and easy. Just toss the garbage in – like a big dumpster. Alternatively, the kayakers can act like the scouts that bring back the smaller bits back to the mother ship.
  4. Arrange for the local municipality to get involved. They will likely arrange for someone to meet you at the take-out to pick up the bags you’ve collected and pay for proper disposal. Make it easy on them and sort the recycling from the garbage.
  5. Set time aside the week before to invite people. A personal phone call is the best way to enlist helpers. Paddlers seem to be reluctant to commit to anything too far in advance, so give your friends a call or personal email two days before. That way they won’t assume that, “someone else is already helping”.
  6. Contact related local businesses for support. A local paddling shop or outdoor store may be happy to donate some prizes to give away at the end of the day for ‘most unusual item found’, or, ‘most heroic garbage retrieval’, etc. Don’t be shy to ask.
  7. Make it a social, fun event that people won’t want to miss. This can be as simple as a riverside picnic at the end of the cleanup. This way even non-paddlers or families can take part.
  8. Invite your Mayor, local MP, or other political figure to participate. This can be an amazing Public Relations opportunity for them and an opportunity for you to get our decision-makers to connect with the land. Chances are they’ll decline your invitation, but at least they’ll get the message that people care about having clean waterways.
  9. Safety. When hosting a public event, you’ll want to make it clear what kind of paddling skill is required, and chose an appropriate stretch of river. Having a lawyer draw-up a simple waiver of liability can be a good idea. Don’t be afraid to ask to have the waiver created for free. After-all you’re doing everyone a favor whether they know it or not.
  10. At the end of the day tally up the garbage weight, the number of bags, and make note of what you find. From 3 years of hosting a cleanup, our most unusual items collected from the river include an office chair and a climbing harness! This kind of information can be useful when writing a press release about the cleanup. Letting the public know about how much and what you collected can help bring awareness to our rivers how we use them.

As paddlers, we have the unique ability to clean up long stretches of shoreline from the comfort of our canoe or kayak seats, all within a matter of hours. So after a long season of paddling your favorite home-river, why not consider giving thanks for safe passage by cleaning up its shores before putting it to bed for the winter?

Submitted by:  Leanne Schick and Charles Reuchel

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