Imbolc Beach Cleanup

Ever since I moved my studio out to the Long beach peninsula in Washington and started splitting my time between there and Portland, I’ve had to give up some of my responsibilities and take on others as I’ve adjusted to the change. One of the things I gave up was my adopted stretch of the Columbia River near Sauvie Island. I just didn’t have the time any more to keep up on it, especially with the increased time away. Now that I’m more settled in I’m planning to get some more volunteer time this year.

These little bits of plastic are all over the beach, especially at the lines where the tides are highest each day.

I was able to kick off that effort with the first official beach-cleaning of 2017, conveniently on the weekend after Imbolc. A few times a year people on the peninsula get together on the beach and pick up garbage, some of it kicked up by the waves, and some of it (especially during summer) left by beachgoers. The past few times I’ve always had out of town obligations, so I was excited to finally get to be a part of this past Saturday’s efforts. I pick up litter when I’m on the beach anyway, but there’s something about being part of a concerted effort, you know?

Since it’s not yet tourist season, the beach didn’t have a ton of large, fresh debris like beer cans and the like. I found some half-buried plastic bottles and bags, a couple pieces of larger plastic bins and other items broken off and tossed on the waves–and lots and lots of tiny plastic and styrofoam fragments. It’s these latter ones that concern me; that’s the sort of thing that makes up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. And they’re tough to clean up. I was out there with a cat litter scoop sifting them out of the sand, and many of them were still small enough to slip through.

Eventually I just lightly scraped the top layer of the sand to catch the little bits of plastic there, and scooped the whole thing into my bag.

Still, I managed to collect a few bags of garbage, most of which were picked up by volunteers driving by (yes, this is one of the few beaches you can drive on–not that I’m happy about it.) I got a picture of my last partly-filled bag, and a chunk of what looks like a yellow recycling tub.

On the one hand I feel discouraged because I know I barely made a dent in the plastic litter on the beach. There are SO MANY tiny fragments on the beach just from the last couple of storms; I had to stop focusing on them because I knew I had other stuff to pick up and I needed to focus my efforts on getting a larger volume of plastic out of there. It would be impossible for me to sift them all out of the sand. And yet, all I can think about is how they may eventually make their way back out to the ocean to join the great, deadly gyre of plastic debris in the middle of the Pacific.

There’s still plenty of work to do, but at least I’m not the only one trying to clean up the mess.

But I can’t let myself despair. People ARE out there trying to get this stuff cleaned up before it makes its way into the ocean. And there’s growing awareness that the best way to keep the Patch from getting bigger is to reduce the manufacture and consumption of plastic in the first place–hence why I work primarily with natural materials instead of plastics like fake fur and pleather. Hell, there are even people making new inroads into non-petroleum-based plastics that actually biodegrade!

So I’ll keep doing cleanup when and as I’m able to, and reduce my own consumption as much as I can. I may not be able to win this battle by myself, but I can at least make my contribution, one bag of plastic bits at a time.

2 Comments.
  1. I usually take a small screen with me and a bucket. When I have a batch of plastic bits and sand, I fill the bucket 1/2-full of water and dump the bag full in. Sand sinks, plastic bits I skim off the top with the screen. I used to do this with my kids with kid-size plastic snow shovels. They would skim them along the surface of the sand at the tide line and then dump into the bucket. You’d be surprised how fast that goes….but yeah, you need more than a kitty litter scoop….

    • Argh, just saw this in the spam filter (!) What an awesome idea it is! I need to get myself a little screen then, it seems. Thanks for the tip.

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