Beach Cleaning: The Good and The Bad

25 09 2013


Dear World

Last week, my course-mates and I went beach cleaning as part of a module requirement. With that being said, I am pretty sure most of us wanted to go beach cleaning anyways so we were all pretty excited. During the activity we collected 28 bags of garbage that weighed 230kg. I think that is pretty decent work for only being at the site for an hour.

Anyways, I made a few observations about the activity and noticed that may be, beach cleaning might not be the most effective activity or as good as people perceive. Don’t get me wrong! Cleaning beaches has many benefits such as maintain habitats for wildlife, preventing leaks of poisonous material into the environment and obviously, for aesthetic reasons as well ( we have to make our coast look pretty enough for ecotourism … or may be just plain tourism). In addition, with the recording system official beach cleaning organisations require, we can track how much trash is actually floating around the oceans and eventually end up on our shorelines. Sounds like a good functioning system!

Unfortunately, beach cleaning in theory has many great benefits to the environment and to society. In practice, many concerns come up, mainly to do with human tendencies or so I have noticed. For example, sometimes the people involved in beach cleaning are not necessarily strong enough to carry full bags of trash and therefore use less space in garbage bags and more bags themselves. This makes beach cleaning data more deceiving. While we tried to compile 2-3 half filled bags into one bag, other groups of people may not do the same skewing the results of the data collected,

Another observation I made was that cleaners are selective of what they pick up. While I understand that sometimes some pieces of Styrofoam or plastic are harder to remove use to obstacles that are not necessarily easy to overcome ( e.g. a fallen tree, thick forestation or potentially coming into contact with poisonous or sharp torn), I have noticed that sometimes the most obvious pieces of trash are easily ignored. This could be due to a few reasons; firstly, our group was filled with young people who are adventurous and ambitious( yes, even when it comes to collecting trash). People were ducking and climbing into the mangroves to collect trash that were the furthest to reach. Others when far from shore and into the muddy middle ground between ocean and land. We ignored the obvious when we should have realized any piece of trash picked up would have been beneficial to the ultimate goal: cleaning the beach.

These observations of my cohort should not be considered as generalizations. They are merely meant for people who would do beach cleaning in the future to consider your actions during the activity.  Beach cleaning still has its benefits and volunteers are always welcomed.

The ultimate lesson from the experience is that, really, beach cleaning should not be our first option for protecting our coast. If we want a better coastline, we need to stop the cause the root of the problem; we need to limit our waste and stop using our ocean as bottomless pit for trash.

I hope everyone takes part in beach cleaning though. It is still a very eye opening experience.

Take Care!