Saturday, September 18th is National CleanUp Day hosted by Clean Trails. Inspired by the mission to take personal responsibility for caring for our public spaces, I thought what better way to participate than with a beach clean up in my own backyard.
Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine you’re walking along a beautiful beach. The waves are rhythmically crashing on the shore, the sand is warm beneath your feet, there’s a gentle breeze in the air. It’s heavenly…until you accidentally trip over a used plastic water bottle on the ground.
Start to look closely, and there’s trash scattered all along the beach. Some big pieces, like water bottles, as well as small plastic pieces barely visible in the grains of sand.
We have all heard or read the frightening statistics about trash in our landfills and oceans. Visit any local park, hiking trail, or beach and it’s plain to see.
According to Parley, 8 million metric tons of trash end up in our oceans every year. The majority of that trash ends up at the bottom of the ocean or in a gigantic whirlpool of collected debris called a gyre, but some also washes up along shore.
Then, of course, you have the trash that left behind by beach or park-goers. This may be purposely done or by mistake, but either way, it’s there.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer scope of the problem. Looking along the beach, it’s clear to see that I could not clean up all the trash in one day by myself. But just because it’s a BIG problem, doesn’t mean that we should do nothing.
I’ve found that one way to cope with the overwhelm that this problem undoubtedly leaves is to find a way to take action in my own little pocket of the world. The action may feel small, and sometimes insignificant, but if everyone did the same, the effect would surely be a great one.
The first way I take action is spending at least 5 minutes of my beach time cleaning up the trash that I see littered among the sand. This couldn’t be easier and is such a simple way to make a direct impact on a shared local space. In fact, according to Clean Trails, studies have shown that the thing that inspires people to pick up litter the most is seeing other people do it. You never know who you may inspire by picking up a single piece of trash.
I keep a pair of gloves in my beach bag to make the beach clean up as safe and sanitary as possible. By keeping gloves handy, I also never have an excuse to not pick up the trash that I walk past.
The second way is to take measures to reduce waste in my everyday life. This is a process and requires some planning and foresight. If you’re not sure where to start with this, allow me to help you! Come along with me on a recent beach clean up. I’ll show you what I found and then recommend some of my favorite eco-friendly products that you can use in your own life to reduce the amount of trash created in your day-to-day life.
Let’s start with a basic one – plastic beverage bottles. Sometimes on my beach clean ups, I find a whole bottle, other times it could be a cap from one or the plastic ring that goes around the top.
Snag a reusable water bottle. I love my Yeti, but you can find options as cheap as $10 at your local store or online. They’re easy to transport, keep your liquids cool, and most importantly, you won’t have to buy those pesky plastic bottles anymore.
I’m a big advocate for keeping up with your oral hygiene, but I avoid these single-use flossers as much as possible. Unfortunately, I have seen these on the beach quite often. I don’t recommend picking these up unless you have gloves or a way to protect your hands!
The refillable floss pod from Quip is my go-to. It’s an investment up front at $30, but with that you receive a sturdy, reusable, refillable pick that comes in its own storage case as well as a floss refill pod. One floss pod replaces up to 180 single-use floss picks. Quip also offers a refill plan for $5 every 3 months, so you’ll never run out of floss.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found shoyu packets, candy wrappers, or pieces of plastic takeout containers buried in the sand or floating in the water.
If you can, pack your food at home. Who doesn’t love a beach picnic anyways? Although it takes a bit more effort, packing your food in glass jars or reusable containers (and leaving all packaging at home) prevents those gusts of wind from carrying any loose packaging down the beach and out of reach.
Of course, living in the world we are in now, masks are a part of our daily lives. As convenient as the disposable masks are, sadly they are made from mixed materials and can’t be recycled. On this particular day, I found three different face masks in the sand within a few minutes of arriving at the beach. Again, be as safe and sanitary as possible when removing these off of the ground.
Opt for reusable masks when you can. I love finding makers online through Etsy with fun designs. And when you buy masks in this way, you directly support small businesses, artists, and makers. A win-win!
Take a close look at the sand beneath your feet and you’ll start to notice tiny pieces of plastic or styrofoam mixed in with grains of sand. Pieces that measure 5 millimeters or less are called microplastics and they wash up from the ocean onto shore. These microplastics are created when bigger pieces of debris break down in the ocean and then wash up on the shore.
Of course, you can’t really “swap” out microplastics. But what you can do is commit to using less of these materials in your day-to-day life. You don’t have to be perfect with this practice by any means. Plastics are extremely prevalent in our modern lives and avoiding them completely would take a concerted – and quite frankly, difficult – effort. But we can all make conscious choices to help decrease the amount of trash we each create.
We only have one planet and it comes down to each of us to take responsibility for the ways in which we care for it. Next time you’re at the park, beach, or trail, it only takes a few moments of your day to pick up any litter you see. Remember to opt for sustainable eco-friendly choices when you can. Together, our small daily choices can add up to a healthier world for all of us.