kids doing cleanups and collecting data
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Doing Your Cleanup

NGSS PRACTICES and PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS as They Relate to Planning, Data Collection, and Follow-up


  • The Coastal Commission can provide registered groups with disposable trash and recycle bags and plastic gloves. If feasible, please try to reduce the waste from your cleanup with the following strategies:
    • Ask students to bring gardening or work gloves from home to use during the cleanup. If cleanups will be an ongoing activity at your school, consider raising money or asking your PTA to purchase a class set, or requesting a donation from a local hardware or garden supply store.
    • Use buckets or reusable bags for collecting trash. The cafeteria may have buckets that can be repurposed for a cleanup. You may also be able to use the small plastic trash bins from the classrooms, as long as you carefully return them after the cleanup. Other possible trash containers include: reused shopping bags, an opened half-gallon milk carton, a cardboard oatmeal cylinder, a plastic milk jug or 2-liter bottle with the top cut off.
  • Data cards, either printed out by you (in English or Spanish) or request them from the Coastal Commission when you register. Alternately, you can download the CleanSwell app to enter data from smart phones directly into the online database. Using the app instead of cards will decrease your ability to isolate your data for analysis, so consider your plan before choosing a data collection method. (Read more about the database on our After Your Cleanup page.)
  • Pencils for collecting data
  • A bathroom scale or luggage scale for weighing your trash (optional)
  • Access to dumpsters for trash and recycling. If your school doesn't have recycling collection, learn where to recycle in your area.


What questions do your students have about litter on their campus? Which questions can be answered by a cleanup with data collection? (For instance, "What kind of litter will we find in the schoolyard?" or "Which section of the schoolyard will have the most litter?") How can the cleanup be organized so that students' questions are answered? NGSS Practices: Asking Questions and Defining Problems

Dividing the campus into regions can make it possible to collect more specific data. If you have a campus map, pass out copies or project it on the wall to aid with planning. What sorts of activities happen in different areas of the campus? Lunch time, student drop-off, student and faculty parking, sports events... If classes or groups are participating on different days, cleaning the same areas can quantify the amount of trash littered over a particular amount of time. Multiple cleanups may also be required to answer students' questions (e.g. "Does cleaning up litter reduce littering in the future?"). Cleanups can be held at different times of day to further isolate data. Provide students with the data card. Will using this data card answer their questions? Do any of the students' questions require new categories be added to the data card? (E.g. Specific types or brands of food wrappers.) NGSS Practices: Planning and Carrying Out Investigations

Guide students to consider what variables might impact the data and how to control for them. For instance, is the 5th grade planning a field trip which would mean fewer students on campus (and potentially, less litter than usual)? Is the swim team holding a candy sale on Friday? Should your investigation avoid this day, or is the candy sale an impact to measure? NGSS Practices: Planning and Carrying Out Investigations

For K-2 students, how can they best record their information? Students may document observations of the litter collected and/or the natural elements of the schoolyard with drawings. Students can label drawings and write haikus about what they see and experience in the schoolyard. Younger students may team up with older students to fill in the data cards. NGSS Practices: Analyzing and Interpreting Data


  • Form teams of at least two, with one person assigned to write down the data. For groups of three or more, one person can hold the trash container, while the remaining members are Trash Pickers. Data Collectors will need pencils.
  • For Trash Pickers, if using disposable gloves only one glove is needed. Wear a glove on the hand you're using to pick up trash.
  • Pick up only human-created matter (plastics, metal, Styrofoam, etc.). Natural debris (leaves, twigs, etc.) is part of the natural system and should be left alone. Much of the trash may be small, so keep your eyes out for smaller pieces. Small pieces are especially dangerous to animals who may mistake them for food.
  • Don't pick up broken glass or other sharp objects. Notify your teacher or cleanup leader of the location.
  • Don't lift anything too heavy; when in doubt, be safe and notify an adult!
  • Set up a lost-and-found spot for students to place items that appear to belong to someone (such as a notebook or hat) and a spot for items that can be used (such as pencils or pens).
  • Separate recyclable materials into a separate bag or container. Confirm with your school as to what is acceptable for recycling, or learn where you can take recycling in your area.


The information volunteers collect on data cards has been used to advance environmental legislation. It can also provide a way for students to determine issues of concern for their campus, and can be used for classroom data analysis and as a springboard for improving your campus environmental policies.

  • Although there is not a space to list every single piece or type of trash we expect to see during the cleanup, volunteers should still pick up every piece of debris they find.
  • When filling out cards, count items in groups of five as tally marks and record the final total in the box.
  • Do not write the words "lots" or "many." Count every piece and be specific! Only actual numbers of items can be used.
  • You are using official Coastal Cleanup Day data cards. As you can see, these cards include many items specific to a shoreline or waterway location, such as fishing gear. Take a look at the data card prior to your cleanup to familiarize yourself with which sections are most likely to be relevant to your schoolyard, and which sections you'll probably be able to ignore. (If desired, strike these items before printing cards for student use. Or have students discuss and decide what to strike.) There are some personal care products that you might decide are unlikely to be at your location and may cause a disruption for your students (e.g. condoms, tampon applicators). If so, you can white out those items. You may want to replace them with more common schoolyard items like lip balm tubes or mint tins. There is also a section for "Items of Local Concern," which is where students can note and count items that are not found on the data card. (If you replace existing items in the data card, you'll need to remember that these new items will go in the "Local Concern" section if you plan to enter your data into the Coastal Cleanup Day database. See After Your Cleanup for details on the database.)

SOCIAL MEDIA (optional):

Your students may enjoy participating in the creation of a "digital landfill," documenting via an app photos of the litter items they collect. Visit for details on how to participate. This site also compiles data on litter items and any identifiable brand names. You may choose to assign one student as the digital photographer. NGSS Practices: Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information


Have students bring their trash to a single location to be weighed. Using a bathroom scale, you can have a volunteer stand alone on the scale, then subtract that number from their weight when holding a bag of trash. Total the weight of all the trash collected.

Some groups prefer to do their data collection after the cleanup, by sorting their findings out on the ground. This can also serve as a dramatic temporary educational exhibit for the rest of the student body and staff. NGSS Practices: Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

Dispose of trash and recyclables appropriately in the school dumpsters. If there is no recycling on campus, perhaps a volunteer can transport the recyclables home or to a collection facility.

Next... After Your Cleanup