Sustainable Community Organizing Guidelines

Oceanic Global's NYC Hub created a set of Sustainable Community Organizing Guidelines for best practices while attending community organizing events, which can include protests, demonstrations, sit-ins, marches, vigils, and more.

Created by Oceanic Global’s NYC Hub, special thanks to: Neal Ludevig & Ana Mexia.

This is a guide for sustainable practices while attending community organizing events, which can include protests, demonstrations, sit-ins, marches, vigils, and more. This resource includes recommendations to reduce plastic and waste while taking action in your community. You’ll also find specific vendor inspiration for a Sustainable Community Organizing Kit. The intention of this guide is to reduce waste created during demonstrations and teach people how to properly manage the waste produced.

Download the flier here.

The State of Demonstrations Today

All actions at all scales are needed in this movement for building a just and regenerative future. This includes grassroots efforts, private sector solutions, policy reform as well as direct advocacy and community organizing. There is also a role for raising voices collectively in a shared mission such as demonstrations, protests, vigils, marches, and sit-ins. In September 2019, the largest climate strikes in history welcomed over 4 million people to the streets around the world. Debatably, demonstrations of civil disobedience like these and the growing youth climate movement have led governments and corporations to make stronger and clearer commitments on climate. Although we have much room to grow, the conversation is now certainly at the front of public discord and climate change held the place of a key debate and platform topic for both parties for the first time in an American election in 2020.

We recognize that social and environmental issues are all intersectional as fundamentally these issues impact people and we need human-centric, compassionate solutions. Demonstrations surrounding issues like gender equality, social justice, gun violence, income inequality, and climate change are happening more frequently. According to data from the New York Times, between 15-26 million people have engaged in demonstrations across the U.S. during a one-month period in 2020 alone. These guidelines are created to reduce the impact demonstrations have on the environment, and support movements that rally for positive change.

General Recommendations

The 5 R’s

A good place to begin is with the 5 R’s, which can be used while organizing and in your daily life:

  • Reuse: The most sustainable item is the one you already have.
  • Reduce: Waste less and be a mindful consumer. 
  • Recycle: Learn how to properly recycle and always dispose of your trash accordingly. 
  • Refuse: Say no to single-use plastic.
  • Repurpose: Instead of buying new things, find different uses for what you already have. 

Click here for additional resources on best practices for managing food waste, recycling, composting and beyond. Also checkout our Greenwashing Guide for recycling tips and myth busters.

Sustainable Best Practices

  • Document your sustainable actions via Twitter or Instagram— use the primary protest hashtag and add #SustainableOrganizing. This helps grow awareness about our climate and plastics crises and sustainable best practice. 
  • Leave no trace —take back everything you brought with you. Trash cans are likely to overflow. Bring your own trash bag and take your garbage, sign, and everything else with you when you leave. Dispose of it correctly at home. 
  • Flyer Sustainably — If you get a flyer of any kind, take a picture and pass it along instead of keeping it. 
  • Eat a hearty meal prior to prevent bringing food or takeaway meals. You save money and resources! 
  • If necessary, make a home-made tear gas/pepper spray treatment solution using water and baking soda. Don’t forget to use a reusable container. 

COVID-19 Considerations

It is important to be responsible for your health and others. While safety and social distancing are a priority, choose a reusable face mask and sustainable safety items. Avoid single-use masks and gloves.  

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the usage of single-use face masks and gloves has risen. According to The Guardian, the current use of disposable masks will lead to more face-masks in the ocean than jellyfish. 

Gloves are not necessary if you wash your hands frequently and use hand sanitizer often when on the road. Choose nontoxic hand sanitizer options in refillable containers if possible.

Before the Event

In order to reduce the amount of waste produced at community organizing events, be prepared to avoid waste. The most sustainable item is the one you already have. 

Here is a list of items we recommend: 

  • Reusable Cups: Reusable cups to use for any water or drinks provided on-site (Stojo, JBER)
  • Reusable Water Bottle: Bringing your own bottle of water is important to avoid single-use plastic and keep hydrated throughout the protest. Naeco (‘OCEANIC’ discount code) | Ocean Bottle (‘OCEANIC’ discount code)
  • Plastic-Free Single Use Water: If you’re relying on single-use water for protesting, make sure to buy boxed or canned water instead of a plastic bottle. If you didn’t bring your own bottle of water, always opt for canned or boxed water instead of plastic because aluminum is infinitely recyclable. Ugly Drinks ‘OCEANIC’ 20% discount code | Open Water ‘OCEANIC’ 10% discount code
  • Reusable Plates, Containers, and Cutlery: To avoid single-use plastic in to-go food, bring your own plates, containers, and cutlery if food will be served. Reusable plates and containers (Sea to Summit X-Bowl, Collapsible silicone containers with lid). Reusable utensils (To-Go Ware, ECOSTAR Portable Wheat Straw Cutlery Set).
  • Food Wrapping Materials: Aluminum foil is infinitely recyclable. Other options (Natural Kraft Paper Food Wrappers, Bee’s Wrap).
  • Reusable Bags for Snacks: Instead of plastic bags (like ziplock), use reusable silicone bags to bring snacks or food. (Planet Wise, Stasher, AISHN)
  • Reusable Carrying Bags or Backpack: Bring a reusable bag or backpack to avoid single-use plastic bags. 
  • Biodegradable Trash Bags: To avoid overflowing trash cans, we encourage you to bring a biodegradable trash bag and bring back all your trash with you, as well as pick up what you see on the street. Bring reusable gloves like gardening gloves so you can safely cleanup. (Unni, If-You-Care)
  • Bike Repair Kit: If you’re biking to the protest, don’t forget to bring your own bike repair kit. (REI Recommendations)

Snack & Food Preparation

Demonstrations and community organizing events usually last for long periods of time (6 house average) and require physical activity (walking), so you’re very likely to get hungry. We encourage you to make your own snacks and bring them with you. This helps in avoiding plastic wrappers from snack bars. 

When bringing your own food, we suggest the use of reusable containers and wrapping materials where possible like those listed above.

  • Snack ideas: Homemade granola, trail mix, energy bars, or fruit. Always use recyclable wrappers or reusable bags to carry them.
  • Food ideas: Veggie sandwich or wrap, salad, or pasta. It’s easier to bring something easy to eat while walking. Always bring your own reusable containers, cutlery, and napkins.

If you end up getting snack bars, use the “Energy Bar Wrapper Recycling Program” to dispose of the wrapper. You can send all brands of foil-lined wrappers as well as every kind of Clif Bar wrapper, to the Energy Bar Wrapper Recycling Program which is a free recycling program through TerraCycle®. (This might also be of interest for your home / community / office space.)

When getting snacks consider choosing bars that don’t have palm oil and preferably are packaged in materials that can be recycled by your local waste management infrastructure. 

Options for snacks with recyclable/compostable packaging: 

Tips for a Sustainable Sign + Art

Signs are one of the most common things you’ll see in demonstrations. People love getting creative with signs and use them to share their ideas, feelings, or thoughts. If you are making a sign for the first time, make sure to use language that can be used in multiple protests. 

Use recycled materials to make your sign, like cardboard, food boxes, etc. You can make an erasable and reusable sign with cardboard and tape. Here’s a video on how to do it. 

You can also opt to use a whiteboard or chalkboard to reuse in different protests. Get creative! 

Another way of repurposing signs is to swap out your sign with other protesters. That way you get a brand new sign each time and you get to make new friends. 

These are some items to consider buying for a sustainable sign: 

  • Use a whiteboard and sustainable markers. Refillable options (AusPen). Non-toxic / plant-based / water-based (Loka coming soon). 

During protests it’s common to encounter graffiti artists or live painting murals. If you plan on creating art in the streets, make sure to bring water-based, non-toxic paint and canvas made from recyclable materials because all water on paved surfaces flows into our waterways.

Here are a few sustainable art supplies to consider: 

Day-of the Event

Community organizing events tend to be large events with hundreds to thousands of people. For a march, determine the direction of the flow of people, and keep an eye out for waste receptacles.

Trash Collection

We encourage you to lead by example. Locate trash cans and if you see people littering, kindly let them know where the trash receptacles are located. If you can, pick up litter from the streets (wear reusable canvas or gardening gloves).

If there are no trash cans around, use your own trash bag. Tell people around you that you can take their trash if needed. Team effort makes it easier! Avoid throwing any kind of litter in the streets. Even compostable items like fruit peels need to be discarded correctly. To learn more about how to properly dispose of trash and recyclables, click here.

End of the Event

  • Before leaving, look around for litter on the street. Pick up what you can and take it home with you. 
  • Search for a signage drop-off to donate or take your sign home and reuse it. You can also swap signs with other organizers or participants! 
  • Mobilize on social media: Share pictures of the protest and invite people to join the movement. 
  • Find out if there’s a cleanup the day after and promote it on social media. 
  • Volunteer to help clean up the day after and reach out to social influencers to raise awareness about the event and the cleanup. 
  • Link up with others to encourage cleaning supply donations like biodegradable large trash bags, gloves, buckets, rags, or sponges. 

After the Event

After these large scale community events, cleaning up any litter and graffiti from the streets is important to keep your community clean and healthy. For this reason, clean-ups are usually organized the day after an event. 

Volunteer to help out during the cleanup. When you show up, take pictures and videos for social media to raise awareness. 

Recommendations for the cleanup: 

  • Don’t pick up items you’re not comfortable with. Leave items like needles, syringes, and medical waste alone. Note its location and inform your site leader. They can decide the best course of action.
  • Don’t move or try to pick up heavy items. Safety should always be a priority. Batteries, canisters, and oil drums shouldn’t be picked up. 
  • Bring water and food. Stay in the shade when you can and drink lots of water. 
  • Separate trash properly. Don’t mix garbage with recyclables and compostable items. 
  • Always wear closed shoes, a hat, and sunscreen. 
  • Not every item can be recycled. If a recyclable item is not relatively clean, put it in A non-recyclable pile. 
  • Stay with at least one other person while you clean up.

Volunteer Cleanup is a central clearinghouse for all neighborhood and shoreline cleanups. People can post their cleanups to our site and the system automatically emails our database of a couple of thousand volunteers of all cleanups within a 15-mile radius of where they live.

Proper Disposal of Trash and Recycling 

Top 5 trash items found at community organizing events, and what to do with them:

  • Single-use plastic bottles: Recyclable, put in a bin for recyclables if the bottle displays a 1 or 5
  • Plastic bags: Not recyclable, put them in the trash. 
  • Cardboard: Recyclable, take it home, and dispose of it with mixed paper and other cardboard or take care of your sign and reuse it. 
  • Aluminum foil: Recyclable if clean. Wash first then put in a bin for recyclables
  • Glass bottles: Recyclable, put in a bin for recyclables. Be considerate to others and don’t leave broken glass behind.