At the end of August, I wrote about my first experience consciously picking up litter on the beach by myself. If you haven’t read that post yet, you can check it out here! Towards the end, I mentioned my interest in joining a future group community clean up or maybe even starting one myself. Two months later, here I am hosting my own! 🙌🏼
The day I picked up straws and bottle caps by myself, I posted this photo to Instagram and received a ton of really nice comments - one of which was from Fiona, a born and raised Coney Island local and fellow creative. She casually suggested starting a clean up crew, and I agreed that we should make it happen!
We agreed on getting together on September 15 (for International Coastal Clean Up Day) - and attempted to spread the word. There was a hurricane in the forecast though - so we didn’t end up pushing it as much as we could have. We didn’t want to rally all these people if it ended up raining. And of course…it ended up being sunny after all. It was just the two of us, LOL… but we made the most of it and ended up picking up: 246 bottle caps, 199 cigarettes, 185 styrofoam pieces, 168 straws, 26 plastic utensils, 11 tampon applicators, 6 flossers, 5 pens, 5 plastic bottles, 4 lighters, 2 plastic cups, 1 glass bottle, 1 can, 1 fishing cage, and a bunch of other stuff that we didn’t count (food wrappers, beach toys, etc.)
We sorted the trash by color for fun, with the goal of creating a visually striking image of the trash - in hopes that this would entice people to join us next time. I posted it (the image above), and it brought in a LOT more engagement than any of my other recent posts. More importantly, it opened up a lot of meaningful conversations in the comments section (something that I have been sorely missing from Instagram lately). I also got a TON of DMs and answered ALL of them the following day - it was overwhelming, but I was happy to do it.
We started a running list of people who said they wanted to join for the next time - and decided to pick a day the following month (October) to do it again. This time, we really wanted to let people know about it several weeks in advance so that they could save the date. We met up this past Saturday (October 13) and EIGHT (8!!!!!!!) people showed up! The morning was rainy, and I was so paranoid that no one would show up - but I’m so glad I was wrong and that people DID come, haha. (YAY)
While out on the beach picking stuff up, I encountered a grumpy old man who tried to actually DISCOURAGE me from picking up trash. 😳 He told me “you shouldn’t be doing that” and muttered that his “tax dollars paid for it.” I was speechless and didn’t know how to respond as this was the first time I’ve encountered a negative reaction from someone for picking stuff up. I told him we were an organized group, and that we were doing what we were doing because we wanted to… but he didn’t seem to give too much of a damn. 🙄 If there’s still trash on the beach, there is still work to be done… that’s how I feel, and that’s what I should have said.
Shortly after that, an orange truck (city owned) drove up to us and the man driving asked us “back again?” Apparently he saw Fiona and me last time because he mentioned “a group was just here a couple months ago sorting trash into different colored piles” LOL. He didn’t come up to us last time though, but it’s funny he somehow saw us from afar (or maybe he saw footage from the security camera that was right above where we were sorting last time… behind a White Castle). Anyways, he thanked us graciously and wanted to try to help us in any way that he could. He told us that their machines couldn’t get the little stuff that we could. He gave one of us a trash picker stick (I really should try to contact the parks commission or whoever to get a hold of these for next time??!), and he also offered to take our trash (but we refused because we wanted to count and photograph it, haha). He probably thought we were crazy, but he totally made my day!!
After about 2 hours picking up trash, we regrouped to talk about what we found. We sorted all bottles (plastic and glass) as well as aluminum cans (and anything else we knew we could recycle). Some of us kept some select things for creative projects, but the rest was put in the trash (and probably headed to a landfill sadly). Getting it off the beach, away from the ocean and ocean wildlife though - in my opinion, is a win. If you are an artist who makes things out of marine debris, I would be happy to save some stuff for you and send it to you (if you are willing to pay for shipping)! Please do not hesitate to reach out to me! 🙃
We weren’t able to count everything because it was so wet and windy (styrofoam and cigarettes for example were a no go) - but we did count: 420 bottle caps, 273 straws, and 95 plastic utensils.
Overall, it was a really great day. I actually had trouble falling asleep that night despite being totally physically and mentally exhausted - I still felt high on adrenaline and couldn’t turn my brain off to all the possibilities of where this could go in the future. I may or may not have shed a couple happy tears, too (is that super dorky?) 😂
I truly haven’t felt this alive in a long time. After a fairly depressive spring and summer of overwhelming feelings of self doubt, questioning my purpose, a lack of desire to get out of bed most mornings, and a dead creative drive… I finally feel compelled and excited to create again. Photography, video, writing, design… it’s all is pouring out of me again in a way that feels so cathartic and good and makes me feel like this is a thing my soul was called to do. It’s kinda crazy how the universe works, sometimes.
A huge thank you to Baggu (my absolute FAVORITE reusable bag brand) for donating bags for us to use to pick up trash (and keep, wash, and reuse!) It felt good to cut back on how many plastic trash bags we would have used.
And of course - a huge thank you to Fiona, Mary, Doreen, Sarah, Lauren, Marian, and Wendy for showing up and making this day possible!
If you’re interested in joining future clean ups, be sure to follow along over on my Instagram (@amyventures) where I have been posting about them. I have some pretty big ideas and dreams for how this can grow into something big, and would love for you to be a part of it! If you want to reach me directly, you can also email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. 😘