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Trash Caulin
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Trash Caulin is Leveraging His Following to Make Real World Impacts

Trash Caulin — also known as Caulin Donaldson — began filming clips of himself picking up garbage four years ago, and his enthusiasm has become contagious. Somehow, with each piece of litter, he also manages to snag new followers. Between moments of humorous commentary on the garbage he scoops up, he teaches viewers about the serious side of plastic pollution and its impact on the environment. 

Today, his loyal band of over 2 million TikTok followers grabs garbage bags and joins him in the field. They are social activists sharing ideas and taking action to beautify their communities’ beaches, parks, and streets. Their real-world impact in local communities across the country includes restocking recyclable beach toy boxes, creating cleanup groups, implementing turtle-safe lighting in coastal cities, and teaching the next generation to take their first steps in sustainability.

“Making the space around you more beautiful only takes a matter of seconds,” observes Donaldson. “Whether you stop to pick up one piece of litter or sacrifice a few hours to a beach cleanup effort, everything you do makes a difference. You can save the planet, save an animal, and teach other people to join in, all by doing something that makes you happy.”

Trash Caulin rallies followers to fight plastic pollution on the beach

Donaldson grew up by the Gulf of Mexico and can’t remember a time when he did not feel a love for the seaside. The inspiration to create beach cleanup videos came to him one sunny afternoon while working for a jet ski rental service. “All day, I heard people saying this beach was their favorite place in the world,” he recalls. “A few hours later, I watched them walk away, leaving their spot on the sand littered with junk. I couldn’t understand it.” 

Donaldson took the treatment of his beaches personally, but chose to funnel his frustration into positive action. His infectious love of nature and relentless optimism enabled his TikTok account “Trash Caulin” to gain steady traction. During his “500 Day” series, more and more followers engaged with the account to see how long his unbroken trash-collecting streak would last. Soon, 100 days turned into 200, and when he reached a full year of 365 days of picking up garbage, he set a goal to reach five hundred days. 

“Every day, I found a new way to make picking up plastic pollution fun,” Donaldson remembers. “I kept the clips lighthearted and motivational by making whatever jokes came to mind. It’s what I call ‘climate optimism.’ It’s easy to become angry when you see senseless pollution all around you, but that kind of attitude is not going to affect change.” 

Donaldson’s TikTok channel really took off in the summer of 2020. His followers began posting challenges such as, “Find at least 10 plastic straws and water bottles today!” During the holiday season, they challenged each other to post pics of Christmas trees made of beach litter. 

“I was blown away by how many people were genuinely passionate about this mission,” says Donaldson. “When people get involved and work together, it takes the fun to a whole new level.”

Trash Caulin begins the toy box cleanup 

Sometime during the 500 days of beach cleaning, Donaldson noticed that beach toys made up a majority of his daily garbage haul, and this inspiration led him to build a permanent beach toy box. The goal is for families to reuse and recycle plastic shovels, buckets, sieves, and beach balls, rather than allowing them to be buried in the sand or swept out with the tide. Though the City of Tampa removed his box initially, it is now collaborating with him to install toy boxes at several public beach locations. 

The original toy box, homemade with reclaimed wood, still does its job by the pier on Redington Beach. To see the box in action, readers can check out the video “Too Many Toys in the Beach Today.” In this clip, Donaldson scoops up a plastic sand scooper, a floaty, and goggles during his morning walk. 

“The toy boxes are doing extremely well,” remarks Donaldson. “Just the other day, I came out here and found the box brim full of high-quality beach toys, and the next day it was empty. That means kids are taking these toys away from the sand and ocean and using them. I couldn’t ask for more!”

Today, Donaldson partners with Visit St. Pete/Clearwater to organize beach cleanups and inspire local residents and tourists to keep Tampa Bay beautiful. “I know we are having an impact,” he observes. “Kids tell me they’ve started picking up trash because these TikTok clips have inspired them. Taking care of the beach has become my full-time passion, and I encourage everyone to get outdoors and find a love for nature. When people do that, they discover their own passion for protecting our planet.”

Donaldson’s positive outlook, the power of social media, and the collective energy of 2 million followers are creating a real-world impact on the Gulf Coast and around the world. To get involved in Trash Caulin’s conservation efforts, readers can check out, and follow him on TikTok or Instagram.


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