Alliance for a Living Ocean Looks to Get to the Bottom of Beach Trash

Aug 21, 2019
Photo by: Kyle Gronostajski

Alliance for a Living Ocean Executive Director Kyle Gronostajski and intern Kassidy Peterson have spent Friday mornings this summer sorting through hundreds of pounds of sand and seaweed collected by the beach rake in the borough of Beach Haven. The duo uses buckets and sifters to separate out any trash, making note of exactly what they find, and compiling the data to best understand what people leave behind on the beach.

As Peterson noted in her most recent collection summary, after five rakes through the borough, she and Gronostajski pulled out 2,123 pieces of litter, which weighed in at 56.1 pounds.

Unsurprisingly, 52 percent of that was disposable plastic of some sort, such as water bottles and caps, as well as beach toys.

Other top finds included string or fiber fragments, which Gronostajski said are perhaps from towels or beach chairs. They found a number of green-and-white and blue-and-white striped fibers; these may all be from a particular brand of woven beach chair.

And the twosome has seen a lot of paper fragments. “While these will eventually compost,” Peterson remarked, “they cannot compost as fast as we are leaving them.”

Among the “more surprising finds,” Gronostajski explained, were plastic wrappers from juice box straws. “In just two sorts, we found 41 straw wrappers,” said Peterson.

There were also lots of hair ties, Band-aid type bandages and baby wipes.

This data indicates, as Gronostajski stated, that “it doesn’t seem like people are purposely trashing the beach,” but rather things get lost or left behind accidentally. (Plus, gulls.)

ALO asks beachgoers, then, to think about what they bring with them, and how they bring it. “A lot of it is just awareness,” said Gronostajski.

The number one recommendation: Bring a reusable water bottle rather than a single-use plastic bottle. Gronostajski also suggests downloading the “WeTap Drinking Fountain Finder” app on iPhones (coming soon for Androids) to locate all water bottle refilling stations and water fountains on Long Beach Island.

And, as juice boxes are also contributing to beach garbage, maybe leave those at home, or, be sure to keep track of the straw wrapper. “A lot of the other trash we found was packaging of some sort,” said Peterson. “Try to unwrap your new beach stuff before you get to the beach so it can all be thrown out accordingly.”

She also recommends sealing snacks in reusable containers so there are no bags to rip open, as often a piece will blow away. This also makes the food more gull-proof.

Towels, bathing suits and chairs made with organic fibers are best, Gronostajski pointed out, for when, inevitably, they deteriorate.

Also: “Keep inventory of what toys you bring to the beach,” and don’t leave them behind.

“Remember that anything you bring on the beach is your responsibility to make sure it comes back off,” said Peterson. “If you see something, do something. If you see trash on the beach or anywhere, don’t be afraid to pick it up and throw it out.”

The most encouraging discovery of this program – which Gronostajski said is in its pilot summer, and will likely expand next year – is that he and Peterson found far fewer cigarette butts and balloons than expected, thanks to the bans implemented, respectively, by the state and some of the local municipalities.

Peterson is soon headed back to school at MIT, so Gronostajski is putting out word out that he could use a volunteer, or several, to help him sort through sand in search of beach litter for the remainder of the summer.

Check the ALO website, livingocean.org, or the organization’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, for information on upcoming beach cleanups, to volunteer or to donate.

— Juliet Kaszas-Hoch

juliet@thesandpaper.net

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