Classes of Trash
Beach cleanups reveal litter is everywhere – but the stats tell only half the story.
Thursday, September 20, 2012
At Elkhorn Slough, volunteers filled a 20-cubic-yard Dumpster with a dozen mattresses, a refrigerator, televisions, 27 tires and some dead chickens. At Carmel Beach, the litter was mostly cigarette butts and bags of dog poop.
Coastal Cleanup Day, Sept. 14, revealed all local beaches are junky: A total of 1,137 volunteers plucked 6,887 pounds of garbage from Monterey County shores. But there were stark contrasts in the mass of junk from one beach to the next.
The Weekly analyzed data from Save Our Shores, the Santa Cruz-based nonprofit that coordinated the cleanups throughout Monterey Bay. At the extremes: Carmel River State Beach yielded an average of 2.4 ounces of trash, and Elkhorn Slough produced 12.9 pounds, per volunteer-hour.
That’s consistent with an overall trend showing more litter poundage on the shores of less affluent communities. Nine of the 12 cleanups in Monterey, Pacific Grove and Carmel reported less than 1 pound of trash per volunteer-hour, while nine of 12 cleanups between Seaside and Moss Landing reported well over 1 pound. (Other cleanups at Carr Lake in Salinas and Arroyo Seco River in Los Padres National Forest yielded almost 7 and 8 pounds, respectively, per volunteer hour.)
Those numbers don’t necessarily mean poorer areas have dirtier beaches. Laura Kasa, executive director of Save Our Shores, says affluent communities have consistent litter problems.
Eben Schwartz, marine debris program manager for the California Coastal Commission, agrees there’s not enough data to connect socio-economic conditions with beach litter. But he notes that communities around storm drains have dirtier shores because of trash carried from inland. And in a down economy, State Parks relies on volunteers to do most of the cleanup work formerly done by staff. “There is more we could all be doing to try to communicate with non-English-speaking communities,” he adds.
Alison Goss, who coordinates monthly cleanups for Surfrider Foundation’s Monterey chapter, says most beach litter actually rides in on the waves. The middle of Monterey Bay – from Del Monte Beach to Marina – has the highest deposition rate of seaweed, dead animals and trash. She’s noticed that certain beaches are characterized by particular kinds of litter, like dog-poop bags in Carmel, debris from homeless encampments in Sand City and plastic foam at Marina State Beach. Other contributing factors include the availability of trash bins, environmental education and tax dollars for beach maintenance. But ultimately, Goss stresses, litter is everywhere.
On Carmel Beach she finds things like flip-flops, Champagne bottles and cell phones. In Moss Landing she finds disposable diapers, condoms and food wrappers printed in Spanish. “From Carmel to Moss Landing I don’t see a disparity in volume,” she says. “It just takes on a different character.”