This summer, I've been heading to the beach every chance I get (no surprise there - haha!) I usually go to hunt for treasures like seashells, sea glass, rocks, etc. - but yesterday at Coney Island I decided to switch from beach combing mode to beach clean up mode. While I'm beach combing, I'm pretty selective about what I pick up... but when I'm in clean up mode I want to pick up EVERYTHING in sight. The two modes are pretty different in that way, but strangely enough I think there is beauty to be found in both processes. Although it isn't the same feeling of excitement per say as finding a giant finished piece of sea glass or a large whole empty conch shell... it was really cool to find that one unique teal bottle cap (in the photo above) and a sole purple straw in a sea of more common colors (clear, red, green, orange). As gross and horrifying of a task as clean ups are - there is nothing that compares to the feeling of knowing that you are leaving a place better than you found it.
I collected 96 plastic straws, 56 bottle caps, 1 spoon, 1 cup, and a random assortment of other broken plastic bits. Unfortunately, there was so much more that I physically couldn't pick up because I only had a small bag with me. I desperately needed a bigger bag, and will be bringing one next time - that's for sure! It didn't feel great picking up some trash and leaving other larger things behind, but I also know that it was definitely too big of a task for just me to accomplish on my own... as much as I wanted to be the super hero and leave the beach completely 100% spotless.
Sometimes I wonder what goes through people's minds as they walk past trash on the beach. Are they just numb to the fact that it's there and is a problem? Has litter just become normalized? I mean I sure have walked past litter on the beach and elsewhere (guilty) many times before (we all have) - but at the end of the day... is choosing to leave it there really better than putting it there in the first place? I think a lot of people take on the attitude: "It's not my trash to pick up" because they didn't put it there... but that solves nothing. Sure it's gross, and maybe people just don't want to get their hands dirty... (but you can wash your hands after or bring gloves!) At the end of the day - we only get one earth to call home... and I think we all have to take ownership of this mess we've collectively made. Ignoring it isn't an option.
I could have sworn that I gathered at least 100 straws - and a part of me was actually bummed I was 4 short, LOL. I'm making a mental note to pick up at least 4 next time to make up for it (which is probably not going to be hard to do). Imagine if just 10 people set out to pick up 100 straws each? That would be 1000 straws not in our oceans (!!!!!!!) It's crazy to think about. Although it's no secret that Coney Island isn't exactly the cleanest beach - it was still mind-blowing (mind-blowingly horrifying and sad) to me that I picked up so many in just one day. At other non-city beaches, you may not find 100 straws - but you'd probably still be surprised by just how many you do find. If you're looking to learn more about plastic straw pollution, Strawless Ocean is a great resource that talks about why it's such a detrimental problem and ways that you can be an advocate for change! #StopSucking
Plastic straws have definitely been stealing the spotlight lately with many big companies banning their use of them - but there are SO many other things destroying our oceans too. This infographic was super informative and helpful in seeing where plastic straws fall on the spectrum and what other things are wrecking the most marine havoc.
As much as I love to frequent the beach, I know that I don't go into clean up mode often enough. From here on out, I'm hoping to make it a more regular part of my beach trips. I'm challenging you to do the same! Whether it's the beach, a park, or just around your neighborhood - I guarantee picking up that piece of trash will feel a whole lot better than making the conscious choice to leave it there.
5 TIPS FOR MAKING (BEACH) CLEAN UP FUN:
Team up with friends or family members. Because two, or three, or more sets of hands is always better than one. The more sets of hands on deck, the more you can pick up!
Make a game out of it. With others or with yourself - who can collect the most of any particular item (straws, caps, bottles, cups, bags, etc)? Can you collect more than the last time you did a clean up? It could maybe even be fun to keep a running count for the month, summer, year, or lifetime (this one's for you, spreadsheet lovers! haha).
Join a community clean up event in your area. (Or organize one for your community!) I've never done a community clean up event, but I definitely want to look into doing one soon or even organizing one of my own in the future. I imagine it being such a rewarding experience meeting new people and being surrounded by others who want to do good for the planet.
Turn it into art! One man's trash, another man's treasure - as they say. ;) I didn't keep or transform what I found.. but there are some people who do amazing things like turning beach plastics into collages, illustrations, or sculpture.
Bring your beach blanket (and maybe a picnic?) and enjoy a cleaner beach once the clean up is complete. Relish in the fact you lended our planet a helping hand. :)
This post is not sponsored by Strawless Ocean - or any organization for that matter. It's just a cause that I feel passionate about and felt compelled to write something more beyond a concise Instagram post - and so, here I am! Lately, I have been struggling to find the enthusiasm to create and share my voice on social media and this online space - but yesterday I felt like I was tapping into that special energy that I haven't really felt in some time again. I have a lot more to say about the topic of "influence" (cue the cringe) and using your online platform in a way that actually matters - but I will save that longer discussion for another day, haha! Ultimately, I felt like this topic was one that mattered and was worth talking about.