Beach Clean-up, What You Can Do

Beach Clean-up, What You Can Do
Beach trash

Beach trash

It’s amazing how much litter ends up on beaches in the United States. From dead marine animals like seals, whales and pelicans, to asbestos (from illegal dumping), tar (from oil spills) and most recently the remains of the Japanese tragedy at Fukushima, beach trash is not just ugly but a symptom of a culture that has, since the Industrial Revolution, either demonstrated indifference to the environment or resentment over having to curb its appetite for ‘stuff’.

Some of this debris can be cleaned up by beachgoers. The asbestos, tar and Japanese wreckage require stronger measures from environmental organizations and/or the companies responsible. For example, late in 2007 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigators played volleyball at Illinois Beach State Park, but their aim wasn’t to have fun. They were trying to stir up beach sand and gravel to test for microscopic asbestos fibers – a process that is ongoing even today.

Obviously that was not a public effort. Asbestos is one of the most toxic elements in the waste stream and requires very specific handling. The same, in lesser measure, might be said of Fukushima wreckage; before you start bagging it call your local EPA to verify the contents.

But candy wrappers, sandwich containers, plastic water bottles and soda cans are fair game, and if every beachgoer took one or two biodegradable plastic bags along on holiday and collected this all-too-human litter, America’s beaches could be restored in less than a decade. In fact, an initiative is already in place in California – that eminently green state – in the form of Coastal Cleanup Day.

Is it working? As recently as 2010, 82,500 volunteers rid California beaches of 1.2 million pounds of trash! When coupled with the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup effort, which occurs on the same day, the cleanup effort represents the world’s largest such venture, as well as a radical sea change (pun intended) from the throwaway society of the 1980s and 1990s.

If you are looking for a way to improve the beaches and lakefronts in your area, the Ocean Conservancy can help you start your own cleanup, or direct you to groups already organized in your area. In addition to making you feel more ecofriendly, such drives often lead to friendships or relationships with like-minded individuals. And what do you have to lose except a few hours vegging out in front of the TV or letting off steam in a MMORPG like World of Warcraft?

The issue of polluted and littered beaches is especially relevant this year, with more than half the nation suffering a prolonged and historically significant heat wave. At the same time, the Natural Resources Defense Council (or NRDC, a nonprofit environmental organization) has published a study (and a list) identifying poor or dangerous water quality at some of the nation’s largest beaches.

Here are some figures that should alarm you if you have taken your kids to the beach recently to beat the heat (or plan to do so soon):

  • In 2011, there were 23,481 alert/closure days at U.S. beaches; 2012 looks to be even worse, with bacteria in beach water high enough to represent a public health hazard.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that almost 3.5 million people become ill from contact with raw sewage from sanitary sewer overflows each year. These illnesses include stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, respiratory infections, meningitis, and hepatitis.
  • A similar study by the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, found that fecal contamination at Los Angeles and Orange County beaches caused between 627,800 and 1,479,200 excess gastrointestinal illnesses each year.
  • Forty nine percent of closings or advisories lasting less than six weeks were the result of an unknown form of pollution. Forty seven percent were the result of polluted runoff and overflowing storm drains.

For a list of beach reports and closures in 2012, please visit the EPA’s reporting site. Given the overall quality of water at public beaches, you would be better off buying a small plastic pool for the kids to cool off, given that tap water is still less toxic (if sometimes only marginally) than beach water! You can even improve the quality of your kiddie-pool water by adding sanitizer packets, which simultaneously get rid of body oils, lotions and bug spray, thus keeping pool water cleaner longer and reducing the use of water, which one financial magazine has dubbed “the new gold.”

Remember, every journey begins with a single step. Even baby steps are good, as long as you take more than one.

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Comments
2 Responses to “Beach Clean-up, What You Can Do”
  1. wartica says:

    I’m getting involved with one around my area in Long Island , NY at the end of this month at a beach near me that I surf at regularly:)

    jonwatersauthor.com

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