When Michael Loftin and friends started the environmental group 808 Cleanups in 2014, they realized social media was sometimes to blame for the trashing and overuse of natural settings.
With the rise of platforms like Facebook, Yelp and Meetup, Loftin noticed some hiking areas were getting overrun. Hundreds of new visitors without a “sense of responsibility” were “causing a major, major problem,” he said.
Social media has popularized many Hawaii attractions, not always for the better.
But it wasn’t long before 808 Cleanups came to realize that social media could also be a friend to the environment.
Bright T-shirts and buckets draw attention to 808 Cleanups volunteers.
Michael Loftin/808 Cleanups
The organization has been trying to flip the script and use Facebook to attract volunteers. It also uses Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Yelp to share photos of its cleanups and the messes left behind at public attractions.
“We thought, ‘Well if this (social media) is a powerful tool for bad, what if we used it as a powerful tool for good?’” Loftin said.
Using its Facebook page to connect with volunteers, 808 Cleanups reacts quickly to problem areas, Loftin said. Members of its Facebook community post geotagged photos of trash or garbage to alert volunteers to problem areas.
They remove graffiti in natural settings, nails left from wood pallets burned in bonfires and trash from illegal dumping.
When volunteers log on to share their stories, 808 Cleanups is able to better track their progress and keep records, Loftin said.
The group also hopes to deter litter by showing social media users the magnitude of trash left behind at public places.
Beachgoers, please don't use wood pallets for fires, they leave nails behind. Found hundreds today at Yokohama Bay. pic.twitter.com/NAb3XR7FbD
Over the Fourth of July weekend, public places around the islands were trashed by visitors. Oahu’s Kaena Point Natural Area Reserve was hit hard. The beach’s popularity increased after social media picked up on the location, said Division of State Parks Administrator Curt Cottrell in a release.
But using social media as a tool for volunteer outreach, 808 Cleanups has removed more than 34,000 pounds of trash this year statewide — mostly on Oahu. In June, 370 volunteers removed 3,714 pounds of trash and 69 graffiti tags across 150 cleanup sites.
“We’ve got to increase awareness, show people what we’re cleaning up and why it affects the environment.” — Michael Loftin, 808 Cleanups
Some volunteers are looking to carry out the group’s mission on the Big Island, Loftin said. He hopes to see 808 Cleanups expand like a franchise and send supplies to whoever needs them. With the help of GoFundMe, a website that collects donations, 808 Cleanups raised $2,750 this year. For the first time in more than a year, Loftin said there were enough donations and sponsorships to provide supplies to volunteers showing up for cleanups.
The Home Depot has been a sponsor of 808 Cleanups from the start, Loftin said. Friends who worked at the Kapolei store shared the group’s mission with their manager. The idea was a hit and The Home Depot regularly donates cleaning supplies and buckets. It’s mutually beneficial, Loftin said — 808 Cleanups gets more resources while The Home Depot gets visibility from its clearly labeled orange buckets.
Hawaii-based Snorkel Bob’s provides snorkel gear for underwater cleanups and other sponsors lend soy-based paint stripper, dive weights and even volunteers.
Loftin, the organization’s executive director, spends 50-60 unpaid hours per week communicating with volunteers or working cleanups. All donations go straight to fieldwork, he said.
Volunteers post photos of garbage-filled buckets and truck beds on the group’s Facebook page. One volunteer’s post showed dozens of trash bags left on Waimea Bay after a July 5 cleanup.
Loftin estimated about 10 percent of the nonprofit’s 3,310 Facebook members are active volunteers, but he said that the social media presence is still key to outreach. The organization is always looking for more help, from lone volunteers and bigger groups.
“We actually don’t really have to work for volunteers, they come to us,” Loftin said.
Pulled exactly 2,354 lbs of trash today with about 80 volunteers. Thank you so much to everyone who came out! pic.twitter.com/vBagRDmzjx
Volunteers have hauled out more than a ton of trash in a single cleanup at Tantalus Lookout, while another cleanup in Kahuku netted 1,000-2,000 pounds of debris. At Nimitz Beach, volunteers collected hundreds of pounds of nails and glass leftover from pallet bonfires, Luftin said.
808 Cleanups also posts signs to notify visitors of hazards in the area, like bees spotted on the Koko Crater Trail in 2014. Loftin said regulars who frequent a trail or beach can volunteer to “adopt a site” and orchestrate regular cleanups.
Volunteers have encountered everything from used sanitary products to computer parts, he said. People may think that small amounts of litter don’t have a big impact, but it adds up and can be washed into the ocean, he said.
Kahi Pacarro said he walks a fine line, between showing his guests and friends aloha and protecting his favorite spots. He said he asks them to turn their location tags off to avoid calling attention to some sites.
“We’ve got to increase awareness, show people what we’re cleaning up and why it affects the environment,” Luftin said.
Kahi Pacarro, executive director of Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, said he too has noticed an increase in people at certain natural settings because of online sharing. The Hawaii native said he’s seen “local gems” that once had few visitors become hot spots.
As a surfer, Pacarro noticed real-time streaming network Facebook Live, which debuted in April and allows people to view weather and crowd conditions remotely, brought more visitors to the beach.
He walks a fine line, he said, between showing his guests and friends aloha and protecting his favorite spots. He said he asks them to turn their location tags off to avoid calling attention to some sites.
Like 808 Cleanups, his organization has harnessed social media to connect with volunteers, reach a new audience and share photos of cleanups and Hawaii’s picturesque sites. Sometimes the organizations have collaborated.
On its website, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii provides tips for volunteers looking to accomplish cleanups on their own. The group also organizes large-scale cleanups and provides some tools for collecting trash.
The organization regularly posts links to sites that accept online donations in order to fund its projects. Lately, it has been plugging the Ala Wai Trash Water Wheel, a floating mechanism that collects debris and reduces ocean pollution.
While the nonprofit regularly posts on Facebook and Twitter accounts, Pacarro said the visually driven dynamic of Instagram resonates on an emotional level with people.
“From our standpoint, the ability to share the degradation of the environment at the hands of humans has inspired people to take proactive steps,” he said.
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