Good Clean Fun
In celebration of Clean Beaches Week, social media sensation and eco-activist Caulin Donaldson talks trash and the ways TikTok has helped him clean up cities around the country.
Plastic straws, food wrappers, cigarette butts, bottle caps. Chances are, if you’ve been to the beach, you’ve noticed litter like this has become part of the landscape. Caulin Donaldson was bothered by it as a kid, so he decided to start picking up trash whenever he saw it.
Today, the energetic and highly entertaining St. Petersburg, Florida, native, who has more than 1.4 million followers on TikTok as @trashcaulin, uses his platforms to encourage others to join his cause. In 2022, 26-year-old Caulin attended more than 30 cleanups in places like Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami, and the Tampa Bay area. On top of that, he even gave himself the goal of picking up trash every day— and daily TikTok videos prove he’s kept to it.
In honor of National Beach Cleanup Week, we sat down with this sustainability hero to find out why he’s dedicated to the cause and how he encourages others to have fun as they join in.
When and how did you get started picking up trash on the beach?
I always picked up trash on the beach growing up, but I started advocating and documenting the issue in 2019 on YouTube and then eventually TikTok. I kept noticing tourists would visit our beaches but leave their trash behind when they left. I wanted more people to know about it, so I made my first video in St. Pete Beach.
What made you decide to spread the word with @trashcaulin and use TikTok as your platform?
I decided to start @TrashCaulin on TikTok for two reasons. Firstly, I love making short-form content. Secondly, TikTok’s algorithm would push my videos to people who weren’t looking for me and probably didn’t even know who I was. Because of this, I was able to spread this message to a new group of people every day. In eco-activism, being caught in an echo chamber can happen often and can be pretty frustrating. TikTok kept me motivated and gave me a platform to make an impact.
We’re incredibly inspired by your work with EcoTok (a collective of environmental educators and activists who use TikTok as a platform for good). Can you tell us a little bit more about this?
EcoTok is a collaborative collective that formed on TikTok in 2020. We’re a group of climate communicators that range from trash cleanup videos, vegan education, waste and energy conservation, climate disinformation, and much more. We have 18 members and a collective reach of 4 million followers!
Your audience is on the younger side. Why do you think it’s important to get kids involved in your efforts?I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to speak to younger minds, since my general audience is 7-14 year old (63% girls / 36% boys) in the US. Encouraging them to get involved is very important to me because this will affect them in their adulthood. It’s crucial we encourage them with positivity; spreading climate doom will only lead to inaction and climate anxiety as they grow up. If they’re involved they can feel hopeful and optimistic about their individual efforts to create systematic and wide scale change in the future.
What are some of the most inspiring messages you’ve gotten back from your followers?
Some of my favorite comments come from kids who tell me they joined their school’s eco-club, organized a trash cleanup with their friends, or just picked up some trash because they like my videos. I’ll even have kids tag me in videos of them picking up trash around their town. It’s the most wholesome thing ever.
How does it make you feel inspired by so many to clean up the environment?
I am incredibly grateful to be in this position. I wake up every day excited to get to the beach to pick up trash. Knowing that I’ve inspired even one person to change their daily routine is a blessing.
What are the strangest things you have ever found in your cleanups?
I’ve found so many nasty, sketchy, or strange things over the years. Some of my favorites have been love notes, polaroid pictures, or iphones. Some of my least favorites have been needles, teeth, and weapons.
What’s the best way for someone to organize a beach cleanup in their own area?
My favorite way is researching your local Keep America Beautiful affiliate. There are over 800 affiliates in the US and they’ll provide equipment, permits, and even volunteers. Just hit them up, set up a date and time, and they’ll help make it happen!
What’s next for you – any goals for the future?
I would love to get my ‘Take a Toy, Leave a Toy’ boxes on more beaches around the world. I think every beach should have a trash bin, a recycle bin, and a toy box to repurpose plastic toys left at the beach.
Photos courtesy of Caulin Donaldson