A Q&A with Eco TikTok creator Caulin Donaldson

Meet a changemaker

  • by Grace Connery
  • 4 min read

Surfing and tanning may sound like a perfect day at the beach, but Caulin Donaldson would much rather be helping keep our beaches clean. The 26-year-old Florida native and TikTok influencer has garnered over one million followers with his series of videos highlighting beach clean-ups. While bringing attention to how serious the pollution problem is in his own community, Caulin has worked with Keep America Beautiful, Clean this beach up, and 4ocean to continue promoting his message on the importance of environmental stewardship. Sk*p got the chance to chat with Caulin about his daily trash series and mission to keep our beaches clean. 

What sparked the idea to create your own daily trash series?

I used to work on St. Pete Beach in Florida. Every day I would watch tourists visit the beach, rent chairs & umbrellas, and rave about how beautiful St. Pete Beach is but then leave their trash behind in the sand. This personally impacted me, so I took it upon myself to pick up their trash. I made a few Instagram stories raising awareness around pollution on the beach and eventually in 2019, I made a TikTok account and challenged myself to see how many consecutive days I could pick up trash!

When did you first realize the severity of the plastic pollution problem, especially in our oceans and waterways?

It wasn't until I started doing research on beach cleanups in other areas that the severity of the plastic pollution in our oceans & waterways really hit me. I found places like Bali, Haiti, and even locations in Miami that were swamped with plastic from all over the world.

Your videos are always very upbeat and optimistic despite the unfortunate amount of trash having to be diverted from the beach. How do you stay so positive? Why is it important to remain positive when facing environmental challenges?

I am able to stay positive by reminding myself that we are constantly moving forward and I'm constantly learning. Optimism is so crucial in this space because of how immobilizing 'climate doom' & eco-anxiety can be. Climate doom can be paralyzing, it's this idea of "well, we're too late to make a change so we shouldn't even try," which leads to a perpetual spread of eco-anxiety. I like to keep my videos upbeat & lighthearted to help keep my audience feeling optimistic.

What has been the most surprising part of doing your TikTok series? (Any wild experiences or interesting discoveries that you can share?) What have been the most rewarding aspects?

Through making my videos, I've been able to see some pretty gnarly places in the US. It's always fascinating to me which types of litter you'll find in different parts of the country. I've found phones, IDs, credit cards, love notes, random pictures & so much more. One of the most rewarding aspects of what I do is how thankful people are when they see me picking up trash. Almost every day, I get at least one "thank you for doing that" from a bystander and it makes me smile every time.

Do you have any tips for people looking to organize their own beach clean-up?

If you're looking to organize your own beach cleanup or city/park cleanup, I highly recommend first checking in with your community for resources. All you need are gloves, trash bags or buckets, some friends, and a safe place to pick up trash!

Tell us what it was like to lead the charge for the Unwind + Be Kind campaign in your city? How important is it to use a platform like TikTok to impact and promote environmental stewardship?

Leading the Unwind + Be Kind campaign was incredibly surreal for me. Being born and raised in St. Pete and having the opportunity to work hand in hand with my city to ensure we keep our beaches clean during spring break was an amazing experience. Now-a-days being an "influencer" has a slightly negative connotation. I believe it's so important to use TikTok as a platform to promote environmental stewardship in a way that will legitimately "influence" a positive impact.

Where do you see the series going in the future? Are you working on any upcoming projects that you can share with us?

I would love to see my daily trash series step into a bigger playing field. Maybe something more international. I want to highlight instances of successful sustainability around the world & also show areas where a more sustainable infrastructure is needed. As for projects in the works, I'm looking to break into the fashion industry & highlight unique and innovative solutions to combat the current fast fashion empire!

What is your favorite activity when you aren’t cleaning up local beaches?

I've recently discovered an obsession with mini golf. When I'm not out picking up trash, I love getting some putts in with my friends!

Do you have a favorite hangout spot in St. Pete?

My favorite hangout spot in St. Pete will always be St. Pete Beach right around sunset, especially after a thunderstorm (that's when the sunsets are the best). 

How can our skpsters follow and support your mission?

You can stay up to date with me on TikTok @trashcaulin or on Instagram @trashcaulin.