How to Clean Up a Beach


I decided that Mr. Savvy and I were going to do something good on Earth Day this year.  Good for the planet, I mean.  Connecticut’s GOT to have something going on, I thought.  Connecticut is not known for their earth friendliness the way Oregon or Vermont is.  Come on, what do you picture when I say, “Vermonters”?  A bunch of hippies and free spirits who don’t allow Walmart within their borders — that’s a common answer (and an awesome one, if I can stereotype for a moment.  Thanks, Vermonters!).  Now what about Connecticut?  The Insurance Capitol of the World, right?  Yeah.  That does not imply green fun.

I needed some environmental action, and with Earth Day on my side I found what I was looking for.  The group Citizens Campaign for the Environment had set up a cleanup day at an urban beach in New Haven, so all I had to do was call and let them know we were coming.

It was serendipitous.  And rainy.

It was also my first beach cleanup.  I can be shy when it comes to strangers, so I was nervous.  I thought the challenging part would be working with the other environmentalists.

I was wrong.  Meeting everyone was easy.  A common interest will do that.  Add in a really uncomfortable, cold, wet day and you’ll get a group of people laughing with each other like old friends.

No, the hard part was keeping my spirits up as I reached for bits of plastic.  Over and over, we picked up brittle plastic bags and eroding styrofoam cups, plastic straws, bottle caps, potato chip bags, and old receipts.  I found a hat — an entire Life is Good hat — abandoned to the waves.  Someone else hauled up a carpet from between the rocks.  An unopened container of Pringles.  Soda cans, forgotten toys,  fast food cup tops and fishing twine.  It was overwhelming.  It never stopped.

We worked.  I thought about the single-use medical gloves we were using, and the fact that we were putting plastic garbage into plastic bags.  I thought about how Long Wharf beach is across the street from IKEA, the leader in disposable furniture.  I thought about how easy it was to overlook the bits of plastic in the sand.  We are trained not to look at it anymore, and we had to refocus and reach for it instead of ignoring it like everyday.  And we still missed things.  Mr. Savvy and I followed along behind a group of volunteers, picking up the bits they missed.  Then another group followed us, filling their own trash bag.  Find anything good? we called.  Jackpot! they answered.

At the end of the event, we made it through about half of the 3/4 mile long beach with an enormous pile of trash.   Too bad we didn’t have a scale to weigh it out.

I’m glad we went.  I had fun with this group of like-minded people.  Were we taking part “conspicuous conservation“?  Sure — we were doing something green in an attempt to get people to notice.  I would say that all environmental action is going to be conspicuous for the sole fact that not everyone does it.  If we want to make it the norm, we have to be conspicuous about it.

Beyond that, I’m looking at plastic waste with fresh eyes.  I spent a lot of time reaching for seashells instead of styrofoam and seaweed instead of plastic.  Too much time.  As Beth Terry (among others) has been saying for years, plastic looks like sea life.  No wonder our animals are dying from it.

Mr. Savvy and I ended the day in the supermarket on the lookout for something warm.  We passed displays of potato chips and I thought about chip bags full of live mussels and seaweed.  We saw grocery carts piled high with soda, and I pictured those plastic bottles half buried in the sand, bottle caps strewn to the wind.  People were buying cellophane-wrapped tulips and netted, tin-foiled hams, and cigarette cartons and lottery tickets and filmy produce bags full of bananas and mangoes, and it all looked absurd.

Between the two of us, we came away with a pound of coffee in its crinkly plastic packaging.  I can make this better, I said.  I’m with you, Mr. Savvy replied.

How was your Earth Day?


©2011 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where as we picked up garbage, I felt a lot like the Disney cartoon character WALL-E.  Someone on the writing team for that movie must have participated in a beach cleanup before.  

5 responses

  1. It´s refreshing you noticed the irony of the plastic gloves & bags. I´ve arranged beach cleans with a leading environmental group who say people should wear gloves. I ignore it… & luckily no one notices. It seams outrageous to add 1000s of plastic gloves to our ever growing pile of plastic pollution. The plastic has been washed by the sea, most of it is clean & if not there´s good old hand washing! (from a bar, rather than plastic liquid soap!)

    • For me, gloves won out because we were picking up things tucked into the rocks, away from the waves — things like drug paraphernalia, condoms, underwear and sanitary pads. However, one of the volunteers brought a bucket and filled that instead of a trash bag. Then she would dump the bucket into the existing trash barrels. Not a bad strategy overall!

      • Eeeek thankfully we don´t get any of that minging stuff wash up. That´s grim. Don´t blame you for wearing gloves then. When we do independent cleans we always use buckets, makes much more sense hey.

  2. I clean up my favorite beach every other day. I am a sea glass collector, and I found that as I looked for sea glass, I started noticing trash. So now when I go to look for sea glass, I take a bag with me and pick up anything I see that shouldn’t be there. It’s great exercise, and I feel like I have a purpose. I end up with way more trash than sea glass, but that’s ok. I don’t use gloves, either. I always walk with a bamboo cane, and the more disgusting type items (diapers, condoms, etc.) I pick up with the cane.

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