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Pinellas influencer got 1.4 million TikTok followers cleaning local beaches. Now he wants your help.

Caulin Donaldson amassed a huge following posting daily videos collecting trash. During Earth Month, he’s hosting a series of cleanups with Visit St. Pete/Clearwater.
Caulin Donaldson, known as @TrashCaulin on TikTok, poses for a portrait with his phone and a cup of cigarette butts he found during his sunrise trash cleanup session on April 11 in Redington Shores.
Caulin Donaldson, known as @TrashCaulin on TikTok, poses for a portrait with his phone and a cup of cigarette butts he found during his sunrise trash cleanup session on April 11 in Redington Shores. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]
Published Apr. 18|Updated Apr. 19

Caulin Donaldson likes to be on the sand before the sun rises.

Every morning he wakes in his Redington Shores apartment at 6:30 and heads right to the beach, where he strolls in pursuit of junk. As the colors of the sky change and the world wakes up, he scoops up bottle caps, crushed beer cans, greasy food wrappers and handfuls of cigarette butts.

“It puts me in a good mood every single day,” said Donaldson, 25.

His followers have come to expect a daily video of him picking up trash, so he pulls out his phone and shoots. This is how Donaldson, aka @TrashCaulin, gained 1.4 million TikTok followers. The eco-creator’s loyal following also has drawn the attention of brands and local organizations, including Visit St. Pete/Clearwater. The tourism group is partnering up with Donaldson on a series of beach cleanups during Earth Month.

Caulin Donaldson, known as @TrashCaulin on TikTok, edits his daily TikTok after his sunrise trash cleanup session on April 11 in Redington Shores.
Caulin Donaldson, known as @TrashCaulin on TikTok, edits his daily TikTok after his sunrise trash cleanup session on April 11 in Redington Shores. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]

In his TikToks, Donaldson enthusiastically greets viewers and narrates his way through each find. While the tone is usually fun and goofy, he also uses his platform to lift up educational messages from environmental experts.

“I didn’t go to school and study this stuff, but I make sure to surround myself with people who are experts,” he said. “I feel like I’ve opened up a space to where I can be a voice for solutions in a positive way, without climate anxiety or climate doomism.”

Caulin Donaldson, known as @TrashCaulin on TikTok, picks up a cigarette butt on April 11 in Redington Shores. For Day 101 of his trash cleanup, he challenged himself to find 84 cigarette butts.
Caulin Donaldson, known as @TrashCaulin on TikTok, picks up a cigarette butt on April 11 in Redington Shores. For Day 101 of his trash cleanup, he challenged himself to find 84 cigarette butts. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]

The Florida native, born in St. Pete and raised in Seminole, first started posting YouTube videos in his pre-teen years. It inspired him to take a TV production class at Osceola Fundamental High School. After he graduated, he bought a one-way ticket to Los Angeles. He lived there for a year, then tried Georgia and Orlando. But Pinellas kept drawing him back. He got a job on St. Pete Beach with Suncoast Watersports.

“I inherited this love and special care for the animals out there and just the beach in general,” he said about the job.

In December 2019, he decided to make a TikTok about all the trash he saw. The video of him picking up garbage in a Walmart parking lot racked up over 30,000 likes.

Caulin Donaldson holds his phone and a cup of cigarette butts he found on a sunrise trash cleanup session April 11.
Caulin Donaldson holds his phone and a cup of cigarette butts he found on a sunrise trash cleanup session April 11. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]

In that TikTok, he pledged to clean up trash for 100 consecutive days. But as his following grew, the feedback encouraged him to stretch it to 365 days. Then 500.

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Donaldson typically shoots, edits and posts his daily videos by 8 a.m. He’ll head back to his apartment to down a cup of coffee and get ready for the day. Then it’s time for business: Phone calls, meeting with eco-conscious brands, coming up with concepts for videos and scrolling through TikTok’s For You Page to scope out trends.

Caulin Donaldson, known as @TrashCaulin on TikTok, uploads a video in his Redington Shores apartment before sunrise on April 11.
Caulin Donaldson, known as @TrashCaulin on TikTok, uploads a video in his Redington Shores apartment before sunrise on April 11. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]

Most of his fans are girls between the ages of 7 and 14, but he also wants to be a role model for men and show that it’s cool to care about the planet. As Donaldson’s following has grown, so have his ambitions. In late 2020 he signed on with a U.K.-based company that connects sustainable brands with influencers. He got his first deal in March 2021. These days, influencing is his full-time job.

The daily trash videos have continued, but Donaldson also has taken on new projects. When he noticed a pattern of loose plastic beach toys left on the sand, he asked his followers to help him solve the problem. Brainstorming in the comments led him to make a “take a toy, leave a toy” box, similar to the Little Free Library boxes that share books around town.

The box was removed, so he asked his followers again for help. They suggested creating a petition and reaching out to city hall. He worked together with Jennie Blackburn, the Redington Shores commissioner assigned to parks and recreation, to create two additional boxes, documenting the entire process throughout. Blackburn even appeared in some videos.

“While I was learning myself, I was also educating my followers,” he said.

@trashcaulin

Day 56/365. We're trying to find the most effective spot for our new Toy Box! #toy #toys #plasticfree #beach #florida

♬ Don't Worry Be Happy - Reggae Allstars

Recently, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater reached out to Donaldson to join their Unwind & Be Kind campaign, which includes a series of beach cleanups aimed at locals and visitors.

The weekly events, hosted in partnership with Donaldson and Keep Pinellas Beautiful, take place in April and May at area beaches, including Pass-A-Grille, Sand Key Park and Indian Rocks Beach. The events conclude with free frozen treats from The Hyppo Gourmet Ice Pops.

“Even though the goals of each individual or organization are different, there is a common goal and that is protecting what we have,” said Steve Hayes, president and CEO of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater.

“You’re talking about America’s best beaches and what we can do to help protect them, and this is just one small part.”

@trashcaulin #ad Join @itsvspc @keeppinellasbeautiful and myself for weekly beach cleanups, all month long! Link in bio to sign up ♻️ #liveamplified #unwindbekind #earthmonth ♬ I Wanna Know You - BLVKSHP

Donaldson is also hosting a cleanup in St. Petersburg’s EDGE District on April 30 to celebrate his 26th birthday. The event starts at Sans Market, a zero-waste lifestyle store, at 10 a.m.

“If I can get one birthday gift it would be for people to come out and support not only my birthday cleanup, but also our city,” he said.

After all of the hustle and bustle, the videos and the brand deals, Donaldson likes to end his days back at the beach. He strolls the sand, picking up shells and crab claws for his collection at home, and enjoys the sunset. A full-circle moment to remind him of what it’s all about.

For Earth Month, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater hired Caulin Donaldson to be the face of the Unwind & Be Kind campaign, which includes a series of beach cleanups aimed at locals and visitors.
For Earth Month, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater hired Caulin Donaldson to be the face of the Unwind & Be Kind campaign, which includes a series of beach cleanups aimed at locals and visitors. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]
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