In numerous cities and towns in the United States, many neighborhoods have become neglected and their run-down conditions have added greatly to environmental damage. Streets are often littered with trash that includes toxic substances. Instead of being properly disposed, such waste is also often dumped in vacant lots and they seep into the ground and storm sewerage systems.
This unfortunate situation can be reversed but it’s a task that calls for a huge dedication of time and other resources by many people. The deterioration of a community’s environment does not happen overnight and neither does its restoration. There are times, though, when a single initiative can set in motion a series of changes that can affect the entire community and put it back on the right track.
Your Role in Community Cleanup
Cleaning up the environment is a daunting task, a job that involves the entire human race, but you don’t have to be a big, important person to make a difference in your community’s environment. By setting up a local environmental cleanup project, the community can have a great starting point to tackle different environmental concerns in the neighborhood.
The project can be as simple as cleaning up a walking trail in one of the local parks or campaigning for the creation of more green spaces in the community. Here are some basic guidelines to help you start an environmental cleanup project:
First, determine the community’s need. It is important to conduct research through surveys and interviews, for instance, to gain a clear understanding of the extent of the project. Remember, you don’t have to start out big right away. While many community environmental cleanup projects are part of a bigger regeneration plan that primarily begins with restoring and preserving run-down buildings, you can start with a small project that is equally worthwhile.
Some great starter projects include clearing vacant open spaces, cleaning up graffiti, developing community gardens and setting up green park spaces, removing trash from the streets, and offering free environmental education. To find more ideas as well as inspiration on community environmental cleanup projects, type the words ‘sustainable communities’ in any internet search engine.
Second, expand your group. Whether the environmental cleanup project is a one-man initiative or the idea of a small group of people, its success will rely on collaborative effort. Therefore, the more people who share your goals and get involved in the project, the bigger the chances of success.
Moreover, it is crucial that you get the support of the local government. You would need their assistance if your project entails city planning. In addition, the support of community-based organizations would also benefit your project greatly. They can also offer help in dealing with social issues.
Third, establish a well-thought out plan. Careful planning is of utmost importance to your undertaking. While the details of environmental projects would differ, the essential aspects that you need to figure out right from the start include your project goals, which should be very specific, and the particular strategies you need to employ to reach your goals. You should also put a contingency plan in place because, as with almost any endeavor, there are always obstacles you need to prepare for.
Fourth, secure funding. Obviously, the need for fund raising would depend on the scale of the project. Participants of the project may be willing to shoulder expenses on their own or put up a fund from their own money for simple cleanups. In addition to this, you can solicit donations from the community. For bigger projects that require more funds, you can seek government grants.
Lastly, after you’ve put all the essential machinery in place, it is time to build awareness of the project in your community. The key to the success of your project is gaining the support of the people in your community and the only way to do this is if they know what you are launching and why.
Get media exposure by contacting local newspapers, TV and radio stations. Be prepared to give interviews and send articles to publications about your project. Create an online buzz through the community website and various social networking sites. A great tip for your group members to keep in mind is to always bring a sign-up sheet with them whenever they are making presentations.
Starting at Home
Launching a community-wide environmental cleanup can really make a dramatic transformation in the quality of life in your neighborhood and such projects are greatly needed. However, before you start or join such a project, it would be ideal to practice at home what you would be preaching. Otherwise, you may lose your credibility as an advocate for the environment. As well, if you are a busy person and you simply have no time to volunteer on cleanup activities or join environmental campaigns, you can still do your share of cleaning up the environment around your home.
When you clean your home, make sure you do it the green way. If you do not know it yet, most commonly-used cleaning products are harmful to the environment. It may seem like you have successfully cleaned your house but the truth is you have added more damage to the environment because of the product you used. The growing trend of ‘green cleaning’ simply means applying cleaning methods that make use of environmentally-friendly products to protect human health and the environment. Below are some steps to significantly cut down the toxic burden of your household to the environment:
Check your kitchen sink cupboard. This is where most toxic household products are kept so check what you have under the sink and remove all toxic chemical products like insect sprays, waxes, cleaners and basically anything that says danger, poison, caution and the like. There are non-toxic, natural or biodegradable versions of these products that are guaranteed safe to use – safe for your household and safe for the environment. So, it is time to replace all those poisonous chemicals.
Dispose toxic products properly. Never pour them down the drains or simply chuck them in the garbage bin because this can lead to serious pollution concerns in the community’s waste stream. Toxic substances that are not properly disposed of will leak out of landfills; wash into the waste water streams, and burn in incinerators. Therefore, after you’ve gathered all the hazardous products in your home, lock them up in storage for pickup by a licensed hauler on the neighborhood’s hazardous waste collection day. Meanwhile, make sure to keep the products away from the reach of children.
Learn the basic non-toxic methods of cleaning. Making non-toxic homemade cleaning solutions from common ingredients can save you money in addition to giving you health and environmental benefits. Some of these green cleaning essentials include baking soda, an all-around cleaner; lemon juice, a great alternative to bleach; vinegar, a stain and grease remover; and certain essential oils like vanilla or herbs like cloves as deodorizers. These and other ingredients for green cleaning are available in supermarkets and drugstores.
When preparing your cleaning formulas, it is best to make them in advance. Buy the ingredients you need in bulk so you can prepare large batches, which will save you a lot of time. Simply store the solutions in plastic airtight containers and sprays. Don’t forget to label the solutions as well as the ingredients you bought and keep them away from children. Although the cleaners are natural, some may not be safe when swallowed by children so to be safe, store them in a high shelf.
In the same manner that you replaced toxic cleaners with natural ones, you should also use environmentally-friendly cleaning accessories. For instance, reduce your use of paper towels by using cloth rags instead and rather than buying rags, recycle old shirts. If paper towels must be used, choose unbleached and recycled paper. Use reusable mops, recycled sponges and cloths, recycled trash bags and high efficiency vacuums for cleaning.
Improve air quality in your home naturally. Forget about the air fresheners in the supermarket. There are plenty of natural ingredients to make your home smelling fresh all the time including orange and lemon rinds or cinnamon sticks. To effectively remove unpleasant odors in the fridge, use baking soda or charcoal. Growing plants indoors is also a great way to filter the air inside your home.
If you find the information on green cleaning and the homemade recipes overwhelming or you do not have time to prepare them yourself, there are in fact green cleaning starter kits that are available in the market that contain all the cleaners you need from dishwashing liquid to laundry detergent to all-purpose cleaners. Some even come complete with microfiber sponges and cloths.
With these clean greening tips, you can start cleaning up your home in a much safer way than conventional methods. Start good environmentally-friendly habits at home and you will find you will be much more inclined to join a wider effort to save and protect the environment.
You can apply the principles of green cleaning at home to environmental cleanup projects in your community. It would also be a good project to educate everyone in your neighborhood about the benefits of green cleaning. Whether you are cleaning up your own home or working with your neighbors to clean your community, the important thing is to take action now.