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Clean Swell FAQ

What is Clean Swell?

Clean Swell is a free mobile application (app) for volunteers to use during cleanups to capture important data about pollution and to track their volunteer efforts. The app is designed to be used anytime and anywhere—during the International Coastal Cleanup season and throughout the rest of the year—for any cleanup, no matter the size and whether it is on a body of water or not. With Clean Swell, simply select “Start a new cleanup” wherever you are around the world and the data you submit after your cleanup will instantly upload to Ocean Conservancy’s global ocean trash database. This data delivers a global snapshot of ocean trash, providing researchers, policy makers and you the insight needed to inform solutions. Click the links below to learn more about using the Clean Swell app:

NOTE: We highly encourage you to make sure that you have the latest version of Clean Swell downloaded to your device. As of May 31, 2023, the first version of Clean Swell will cease to operate. If you have not yet updated the app, please do so to access the latest features and improvements. An update may require you to log into the app again, and then you will remain logged in for future use.

Clean Swell app on phone

How to Set Up Clean Swell

Where can I download the app?

Clean Swell is free to download from the App Store or the Google Play store. The device needs to have internet access or cell service to download the app. Because of this, we recommend volunteers download the app at home, before hitting the beach, river or neighborhood to clean.

Is Clean Swell compatible with my device?

Clean Swell is compatible with iOS (Apple) and Android devices. All iOS devices must use iOS12.0 or later. All Android devices must use Android 5.0 or later.

Will the app work without cellular service, internet, or Wi-Fi?

Yes! Once downloaded, Clean Swell functions without cellular service or Wi-Fi. If a user conducts a cleanup on the app in an area without cellular service their data will be stored on their device until they are connected to internet or cell service again. Once connected, the data will automatically submit to the online database.

Will the app save my data if I navigate away from the app during my cleanup?

Yes, the app will save your data. Feel free to navigate away from the collection screen during your cleanup—check out the Action Center or check your profile settings. If you need to take a call or send a text while cleaning up, that is okay, too. The app will save your data while your away and allow you continue recording data when you come back. But be careful, the app will keep counting how long you spent cleaning even if you are on a different screen in the app or if you are using a different app. Time spent cleaning is an important metric for our database. Please record your time accurately.

Why does the app ask to use my location?

Location services are vital to the scientific value of the cleanup data users submit. It is important that users allow location services to be turned on while using this app! Clean Swell utilizes the user’s device to determine where in the world their cleanup is taking place. By allowing location services to be turned on while using the app, Clean Swell can pin the cleanup data to the exact location of the cleanup, when it goes to the online database. The app also utilizes location services to measure the distance covered during a cleanup.

How can I tell if I have location services “turned on” for the app?

  • On an iPhone: To make sure Location Services are turned “On” while using the app go to your Settings →Clean Swell → Under this section, there are options for “Never”, “While Using the App”, “Always”. Make sure the toggle is switched on for “While Using the App” or “Always”.
  • On an Android: To turn on location services for Clean Swell go to your Settings → Apps → Clean Swell → Permissions → Under “Location Access for This App” you can select the option to “Allow only while using the app.” Make sure to select the option to allow location services for the app.

Why does a user have to create an account?

Your Clean Swell account will give you everything you need to record important scientific data from your cleanups and track your individual impact over time with earned badges, and personalized summary statistics tracked in the app and emailed directly to you after each cleanup. Ocean Conservancy relies on Clean Swell user accounts to ensure the scientific accuracy of the cleanup data volunteers submit. Ocean Conservancy may occasionally contact users to verify data submissions or seek additional information about some cleanups.

We ask users to create an account when they log into the app for the first time. They can do so quickly with a social account or a preferred email address. If a user is out of range of cell service or Wi-Fi, they can proceed with limited guest features until they are able to make an account. Once an account is made (as long as the user doesn’t sign out), the user will remain logged in and can go right to recording data during their next cleanup.

Is the app available in other languages besides English?

Yes, the app is currently available in more than 10 languages and we are steadily adding more. Select your preferred language setting by visiting “Your Profile” in the app. Tap on “Language” on your profile page to see other available languages. Choose which language you want and hit the back button. We continue to update the app with additional languages! If you would like to request a new language, please contact us at [email protected]. Thank you for your patience as we continue to expand our language offerings.

How to Use Clean Swell During a Cleanup

Will Clean Swell let me record data without Wi-Fi or cell service if I haven’t made a Clean Swell account yet?

Yes! Creating a Clean Swell account requires a Wi-Fi or cellular connection. If a user has not created a Clean Swell account yet but wants to record cleanup data in a location that is out of range, the app will prompt the user to continue as a guest. The guest feature allows users to follow the standard cleanup pathway for recording data while they cleanup. The data will sync with the cloud when the device is back within range of cell service or Wi-Fi.

The guest pathways is only available when users who are not signed into an account find themselves without cellular or Wi-Fi connectivity. Users should create an account in order to access the full range of features offered by Clean Swell.

Does every volunteer at a cleanup need to use the app?

No, it’s actually best to clean up in small groups and designate one volunteer as the data recorder who will use Clean Swell to record what their group collects. On the first screen when you start a cleanup, there is a place to note how many people are in your group.

The data recorder using the app will not wear gloves or touch trash but all other volunteers who are touching and collecting trash should be wearing gloves. We recommend the “call-as-you-clean” method where those who are collecting trash simply note what they are collecting out loud for the data recorder to follow along and tap items on the collection screen of the app.

How does the “Group name” field work in the app?

The “Group name” field is a great tool for cleanup organizers to track multiple Clean Swell entries from the same cleanup location, event or organization. Volunteers or organizers can type whatever text they’d like into this field that will help them identify their cleanup group after the event. Later, in the TIDES database where all Clean Swell data go, a user can search for their group name and download their group’s data report. This is also a great feature to link groups that may be spread out and conducting cleanups over a wide geographic range. For instance, if you are doing a cleanup with your coworkers from around the world, simply put your company name in their group name on the app and all their cleanup data can be searched for and summarized. When thinking of a group name, remember to use something unique and easy for members of your group to type accurately. For example, “Cleanup Team 1” might be hard to find in the database later. Examples of good group name examples include Girl Scout Troop/Boy Scout Pack numbers, non-profit partner’s name or acronyms and event names such as “Sea Turtle 5K” or “Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup”.

My “Group name” field is already filled in. What’s that about?

Depending on where you are doing a cleanup, Clean Swell may recognize a local International Coastal Cleanup partner in your area. This is usually another environmental non-profit organization that is an established partner with Ocean Conservancy and cleanup organizer in your location. Their logo may appear on the home screen and their chosen group name may appear in that field. If you are not doing a cleanup with this particular group, or are part of a different organized event, you can always tap on this field and delete whatever default text is there, replacing it with your own group name or leaving it blank.

Is a “Group name” required on the app?

No, it is optional and can be left blank.

What if my cleanup has some volunteers using the app and others using the paper data card?

That is no problem. The Clean Swell users will simply submit their data and those will go directly to the online database. Cleanup organizers can return any completed volunteer paper data cards to Ocean Conservancy and our team makes sure that additional data get added to our online database we call TIDES, without duplicating any data already there from Clean Swell entries. In short, if you need help adjusting any of your event’s data, you can always reach out to [email protected].

How do you add multiples of one trash type on the collection screen, without tapping that item over and over?

Clean Swell has a bulk entry feature for exactly this situation. To add multiples of one type of trash to a collection on Clean Swell, tap and hold on the item icon you are adding to. An orange circle will appear. Lift your finger from the icon and a window will appear where you will be able to type in the number of items you want to add to that trash category. For example, you can hold down on the icon for “Plastic/Foam Pieces” and in the window, type “200”, and then click “Update amount” and 200 will be added to that running count of plastic/foam pieces.

Can I share photos from my cleanup with Ocean Conservancy?

Yes, photos from cleanups always brighten our day and help us contextualize the data. Group photos and weird finds are especially helpful for sharing our cleanup impact online and in reports.

You can add photos to your cleanup below the item categories section on the collection screen. Upload a picture previously taken from your gallery or take a photo while using the app. The user will need to give the app permission to access your camera and camera roll to perform either action. Check that you have given the app the appropriate permissions in your phone’s settings.

How are photos that are taken through the app or shared with Ocean Conservancy through the app handled?

If a photo is taken using the app, the photo is automatically saved to the user’s camera roll. The images added to the cleanup and submitted with the final data go to a private Flickr account that ICC managers have access to. You can also use the photos taken during the cleanup to create a shareable social graphic after you tap “Finish this cleanup.” By uploading your image to Clean Swell, you are allowing Ocean Conservancy the right to use your image royalty-free. This means that Ocean Conservancy reserves the right to use any photo that users submit through Clean Swell in published reports, on our website, in our emails and on our social channels. We will always include photography credit and copyright and licensing will remain with the photographer. For details about how we might use these images, review our privacy policy.

Can I share the results of my cleanup on social media and elsewhere?

Yes, Clean Swell generates a social media compatible graphic after each cleanup that displays key pieces of data from the cleanup. Users can choose between pre-set backgrounds for this graphic or pick one of the photos they submitted from their cleanup. The graphic can be shared on a range of social media platforms as well as in messaging apps and more. To find this graphic, tap “Finish this Cleanup” on the collection screen, then scroll to the bottom of the “Finished!” screen.

Can I record data after a cleanup instead of during a cleanup?

Yes, although we prefer to receive the most detailed data possible, we know that there are many reasons why users might not want to or be able to record data while they collect trash. The “Record a past cleanup” option allows volunteers to cleanup and report abbreviated data on what they collected after the cleanup. Simply do your cleanup, count how many bags of trash you collected and note their size. Then, report this information in the app later. The “Record Past Cleanup” option can be found on the home screen menu, to the right of the standard cleanup option.

How can a user record an item of trash on the app that isn’t a category on the collection screen? Where can weird or strange finds be recorded?

The collection screen on Clean Swell has volunteers track 44 unique trash categories. Because we know that there are always items found that won’t fit into one of these categories two of the categories are names “Other plastic waste” and “Other waste (metal, paper, etc.)” and items not explicitly listed on the screen can be counted under this category.

If volunteers want to make special note of something found, perhaps a strange find or an item of local concern, they can tell us about it by replying to the summary email they receive after the cleanup. We are always interested in hearing about what volunteers find, and what categories might be helpful in the future.

Can I get a letter that validates my time spent volunteering through a cleanup on Clean Swell?

Under many circumstances, Ocean Conservancy can offer letters to volunteers confirming their service hours. We ask that volunteers interested in receiving a letter, forward their Clean Swell summary email(s)  to us at [email protected] so that we can see the length of time spent cleaning and provide confirmation on service hours.

What should I do with the trash I collect?

It is vitally important to make sure that the trash we remove from the environment does not end up back in the environment after a cleanup. Do not put loose trash or filled trash bags in overflowing garbage cans or dumpsters—this increases the change the trash you collect will end up back in the environment.

Make a plan before your cleanup to properly dispose of the trash you collect. Waste management systems differ between towns, states and countries. It is important to know what waste management processes are in place in your area. If you are cleaning up on public land and you are not sure how best to dispose of the trash you collect, call the appropriate park or land manager to ask what they would like you to do with the trash you collect. If you are cleaning up on private land, or in an area without clear waste management solutions (trash/recycle cans, regular collection, etc.) make a plan to transport what you collect to an appropriate collection point.

Our goal is for volunteers to recycle as much of the waste they collect as possible. Unfortunately, not all plastics are recyclable, and recyclability differs by location and available recycling infrastructure. Contact your local recycling service to ensure that the items you plan to recycle are acceptable and will not inadvertently contaminate the recycling stream.

Are there any safety precautions I should follow during my cleanup?

Yes! Please review Ocean Conservancy’s recommended safety precautions before beginning a cleanup.

Can I find a community of other folks who cleanup with Clean Swell?

Yes! Ocean Conservancy works with a network of more than 500 cleanup organizers all over the world to facilitate the annual International Coastal Cleanup. Many of these groups host cleanups throughout the year and post them on our Signup to Cleanup Map. Check the map for cleanup groups near you. If you have location services allowed while using Clean Swell, you may also see the local ICC partner mentioned right on the home screen, with a link to their cleanup webpage so you can get connected to other trash-tacklers in your own community.

Where do Clean Swell data go?

All Clean Swell data (as well as data returned to Ocean Conservancy by mail or any other format) live in an open access online database that anyone can visit to find and download data reports. This database is called TIDES.

Can I delete my Clean Swell account?

Yes. Ocean Conservancy takes user privacy and data protection very seriously. Users can email [email protected] to request that their Clean Swell account be deleted. When an account is deleted, cleanup data submitted by that account remain in the TIDES database but all sensitive account information associated with the data is purged.

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