Photo by People of the Platte.
 In Community Events, Education and Learning, Public Outreach, River Restoration and Protection, Water conservation, Water Pollution, Water Quality

Embracing Individual Action for Our Waters

Spring is our, and likely your, busiest time of year for outdoor clean-up events, bringing hundreds of people together in various states. This year, however, COVID-19 has brought social distancing measures to every state in the country and we’re all exploring new and unique ways to continue engaging with our communities and ourselves, right in our own backyards. From backyard bird watching to baking bread, mindful, individualized activities are filling our time more and more. 

In these times of unprecedented change, how can we remain flexible in continuing to pursue our goals and passions? River Network is one of many organizations across the United States that is getting creative with our work. Through initiatives like Anheuser-Busch’s World Environment Day and the Ball Foundation’s river clean-up projects, we work with community partners to plan and host outdoor clean-up events. COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in these plans, but it has also opened the doors for working towards a bigger goal: bringing conservation practices like litter removal into our everyday lives and routines. 

Graphic by Iberdrola.

We can still care for our local environments while practicing physical distancing and respecting local and national guidelines and restrictions that are in place wherever we might be. One option is the mobile app, Litterati, an exciting way to collect and track litter during your daily walk or run. Photograph what you pick up and the app will keep a tally of how much litter you’ve removed, and categorize it to produce graphs, charts, and maps that show just how big an impact you’ve made in your community. You can also join or create a challenge to up the ante and compete against others—why not crown a Social-Distance Litter Champion” of your volunteers, coworkers, community partners, or friends and family and mail out prizes? Combine Litterati with plogging, a unique style of jogging and litter pick-up, and you could even host a virtual “litter Olympics”! Embracing the resources at our fingertips and adding some creative, fun virtual campaigns can get people at home really excited, and provide a valuable outlet for community connection and giving back that so many seek amid our current uncertainty. 

Barrel painted by Cassie Fisher. Photo by Tova Tilinghast from Underwood Conservation District.

What if your organization is up against specific deliverables and deadlines? This is a consideration we have experience with as well: how to modify plans you already had and may not be able to just set aside? Our popular Project Rain Barrel, made possible through the generous support of The Coca-Cola Foundation, provides rain barrel kits to and resources to community groups so they can host rain barrel building workshops across the country. To keep this program going, we took social distance measures into consideration, and created a virtual workshop option in lieu of gathering in person. We recommend host organizations coordinate rain barrel drop off at a location with a large outdoor space, organize them in alphabetical order with kits attached, and have staggered pick-up times for participants who take their kits home and assemble them using a how-to video. The Underwood Conservation District in White Salmon, WA, found success with this model and even found an artist to paint the barrels prior to distribution, just to add a bit of sunshine at a time when we all need it! 

We also saw some creative alternatives to typical Earth Day festivities. People of the Platte and Breckenridge Brewery in Littleton, CO, hosted a virtual Earth Day celebration by simply asking people to take the action that felt right for them and share it with the hashtags #PeopleofthePlatteEarthDay2020 and #BreckBrew. Folks who participated had the chance to win prizes from People of the Platte partners, and make a positive impact on our planet. 

Photo by People of the Platte.

There are also individual organizational actions that can be considered to support our waters such as infrastructure installation, so action can be taken year-round with minimal human intervention. We’ve seen success across the country with in-stream litter capture devices which work to manage the problem without needing to mobilize community members to pick-up litter. Some of these devices also collect valuable data on litter sources, which could help you influence your local litter producers to take preventative action. River Network is excited to be developing an aquatic litter capture toolkit as part of the Coca Cola Foundation’s World Without Waste program, which outlines specific ways your organization and community can take action to combat litter. Look for it in May! 

Osprey’s “Litter Gitter” in-stream trash containment device. Photo by Osprey Initiative.

 These examples only scratch the surface of what might be possible to encourage embracing individual action to protect our waters. What is your community doing to support your mission in the times of COVID-19? We’d love to hear from you! Email

Grab a trash bag and gloves and collect litter on your next venture outdoors, and be sure to show us what you find by tagging River Network on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram! And remember, for the health and safety of your community at large, and especially those most susceptible, please follow all guidelines from your local public health department and the CDC. If you are venturing out beyond your immediate dwelling, go only with folks you live with, keep six feet (approximately the width of your bicycle, or a bald eagle’s wing span) between other individuals you may meet, always wear gloves when collecting litter, and wear a protective face mask when you may be in the vicinity of others.

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