Thursday, September 21, 2006

Heroes and villains of the beach

Beach cleanup effort quickly swept away by litterers 
by Howard Goodman | Commentary

A broad sandy beach.
A sky of blue. A shimmering sea.
And a Hershey wrapper, three soda cans, four plastic water bottles, a shriveled balloon, a discarded sandal and too many bottle caps and plastic bags to count.
That's just some of the inventory I found in a 20-minute stroll on a gloriously near-empty Oceanfront Park beach, south of the Boynton Inlet, on Wednesday morning.
And this was only four days after the beach received a thorough cleaning.
On Saturday morning, 220 volunteers combed the sands east of Boynton Beach. It was about a 21/2-mile stretch.
In 21/2 hours, they picked up:
3,383 cigarettes and cigarette filters
1,187 caps and lids
466 food wrappers and containers
427 straws and stirrers
351 paper and plastic bags
315 cups, plates, forks, knives and spoons
209 plastic sheets and tarps
207 cigar tips
178 pieces of rope
151 pull tabs
145 plastic beverage bottles
And they found an additional 784 distinct pieces of garbage -- including 95 fishing lines, 57 toys, 31 bleach bottles, 11 light bulbs, nine six-pack holders, six car parts, two diapers and one tire.
All of which leads to one inescapable conclusion.
People are pigs.
Much of this stuff had accumulated in only a month. We know this because once a month a group called the Sand Sifters takes it upon itself to pick up the trash that fellow citizens have so thoughtfully left on the public beach.
Those monthly pickups attract 60 to 65 volunteers. Last Saturday's sweep was much bigger. It was for International Coastal Cleanup Day, an annual event sponsored by The Ocean Conservancy environmental group. Last year, 450,000 volunteers picked up 8.2 million pounds of debris from 18,000 miles of coast in 74 countries. All over the globe, people are pigs.
Gary Solomon, who runs a group of Web sites for food recipes, founded the Sand Sifters a year ago with a couple of neighbors in west Boynton.
"Horrific" is the word he uses to describe the magnitude of dreck.
"After the holidays especially, it's absolutely disgusting," adds Janell McCracken, one of his cohorts.
Take, for instance, those 3,383 cigarettes and cigarette filters. Very clearly, many smokers have mistaken the sand on the beach for the sand in an ashtray.
McCracken says the Sand Sifters try to fight this by passing out fold-up, portable ashtrays to smokers.
This effort is not overly successful. It often triggers the territorial defensiveness of the cigarette-loving public.
"Most of the time," she said, "people who are smokers are offended by us asking them to use the boxes instead of the sand."
The garbage isn't all left by beachgoers, Solomon says. Some of it washes ashore, probably tossed overboard by people in boats. Some of it sweeps out the Boynton Inlet from the Intracoastal Waterway.
The variety is impressive.
A couple of months ago, a Sand Sifter volunteer found an engine on the beach, McCracken said. Once, she found dead chickens with their heads cut off.
The beach contains condoms and Tampons. "And a lot of plastic and Styrofoam, stuff that doesn't break down," says Dave Wagner, another Sand Sifter stalwart.
It's terrific that a group of citizens has taken on the responsibility of making the beaches cleaner.
But it's appalling that this is a never-ending job. That so many of us have so little respect for other people or for the beach itself.
"People have no respect for planet Earth," McCracken has concluded after a year of conscientious cleanups.
Time and again, McCracken sees people walking within a foot of a trashcan and tossing their garbage on the ground.
"Like they're thinking, `It's just the beach,'" McCracken said.

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