PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A Tampa Bay area TikTok star has gone viral with his videos cleaning up local beaches, making sure they stay beautiful and inspiring others to do the same.
Caulin Donaldson has amassed over one million followers on his “trashcaulin” TikTok since starting his account in December 2019. He’s done so by simply picking up trash, something he’s always done, living close to the beach all his life.
Donaldson said living by the Gulf of Mexico for so long, you inherit a love for it.
“I actually used to work on St. Pete Beach and it was crazy to me that people would come visit the beach and say it’s their favorite beach in the world, but then leave it trashed,” he said. “It never really made sense to me, so I started picking it up and I posted it on Instagram one time and all my friends were like, ‘yo, this is dope! Keep doing this!’ So I kind of just kept rolling with it. It turned into YouTube videos and then eventually turned into TikTok videos and that’s where it kind of took off.”
He started his TikTok account just for fun. “TrashCaulin” really took off when he started his “500 day” series. Donaldson started the series by seeing how many days in a row he could pick up trash on the beach. He started at 100 days, then 365, then made his way to 500 days in a row.
“It was just like every single day, trying to come up with new ways to show plastic pollution through either personifying trash or just making fun jokes about it. Trying to keep it lighthearted and motivational,” he said.
His followers get involved and help him out, commenting “challenges,” which Donaldson said is his favorite part.
“It’s very engaging. They’ll comment things like, ‘hey, can you find seven straws and eight water bottles?’ So they make trash lists for me,” he said. “Or they’ll also say, during Christmastime, they’ll be like, ‘can you make a Christmas tree out of trash?’”
During his cleanups, Donaldson noticed beach toys constantly being left on the sand. He found some refurbished wood and built a toy box to be kept on the beach for families to give and take toys as they needed and keep the plastic away from the Gulf.
Donaldson said originally the city took it off the beach, but they are working together to place more toy boxes in the sand, along with his homemade toy box near the pier on Redington Beach, where the owner lets it stay.
“I’ve been so impressed with how well it’s doing. The other day I came out here, it was empty. And then the next day, it was full with really high-quality toys. I would say it was probably like $100 worth of toys in the box and then the next day after that, it was gone,” he said. “So people are actually taking these toys off of the beach and away from the ocean and I mean, I couldn’t ask for anything better than that.”
Cleaning up litter along the beach can often be strange, with more than just sand toys and plastic bottles.
“There’s been a weird stretch of time that I was finding IDs. I found this one Frank Sinatra postcard. A bunch of broken phones. I always try and get broken phones back to people, but it’s hard to find them sometimes,” Donaldson said. “Then I also find stuff, things you don’t really want to be touching. I’ll leave it at that. Really gross things. So I try and use the litter picker for those.”
He is partnered with Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, doing beach cleanups and inspiring locals and tourists alike to do their part when visiting Tampa Bay area beaches.
“Just unwind and be kind… So while you’re unwinding here, it’s just a reminder to also be kind to the residents that live here, also other travelers that are coming through and you know, the beaches themselves. So that would be my one message. Also love where you live, just respect it and let’s keep it beautiful,” he said.
Upcoming cleanups are posted online and include Sand Key Park and Pass-A-Grille.