Community members scour Locust Beach for litter left from Fourth of July festivities on July 5, 2019. // Photo by Christa Yaranon
On a stormy day at Locust Beach, volunteers lined the rocky shores picking up firework debris and trash after the Fourth of July.
The event was organized in partnership with RE Sources for Sustainable Communities and Surfrider Foundation Northwest Straits Chapter in an effort to clean local shorelines following the holiday.
Roughly 25 people put on gloves and carried buckets to scavenge through seaweed, beach grass, forested areas and shoreline to collect trash.
The cleanup on Friday, July 5 was used as a way to spread awareness to maintain Bellingham’s marine environment and make a difference in the community, according to the event organizers’ mission statement.
RE Sources’ pollution prevention specialist Kirsten McDade was one of the key organizers and said that these cleanups have been going on for several years.
According to RE Sources, the organization is an environmental education nonprofit promoting sustainable communities and protecting the health of Washington’s ecosystems through action, advocacy and education.
“Because fireworks are kind of a chemical concoction, we try to go to places where people might be found using them even though they’re prohibited,” McDade said. “We target really high-profile places like Locust Beach to try and gather all that garbage up so it doesn’t make its way into the ocean.”
According to McDade, common trash found along beach shorelines includes firework debris, beer bottles, soda cans and other components associated with picnics and parties.
NWS Chapter intern and fourth-year Western student Hannah Torggler has observed the amounts of trash found at Locust Beach firsthand.
“There were a lot of firework pieces and a lot of smoldering campfires,” Torggler said. “We found a few jackets, but mostly firework parts, beer bottles and water jugs left from the fourth.”
The event garnered community support from those wanting to participate in cleaning local beaches and helping prevent trash accumulation in the ocean, according to NWS Chapter intern and fourth-year Western student Ellie Shimatsu.
“This event was put on to clean up any mess that was created through the Fourth of July and we’ve already made a difference by picking up a lot of trash,” Shimatsu said. “With these cleanups, we are hoping to promote and keep the enjoyment of our beaches. Our organization was founded upon the fact that surfers wanted to keep beaches clean.”
According to McDade, both nonprofit organizations have frequently worked together and have similar goals on wanting to maintain the environment.
“We’re an environmental and educational nonprofit organization and we really are trying to improve environmental conditions through building a strong community and providing very tangible ways for people to get involved,” McDade said. “This cleanup is one of those ways.”
The cleanups also serve as a way to reach out to community members in the Whatcom County area and encourage others to participate in beach preservation.
“One of the things that I think people come away with is that they often go to these cleanups a little hesitant at first and not sure of what to expect,” McDade said. “But then they leave it feeling very empowered because they’ve been able to connect with community members and made some positive change and concrete change, which I think they feel really good about — just being able to volunteer and help out with the environment.”
McDade explained that a common misconception is that all litter is intentional.
“I think some people get really frustrated and disgusted with what they see and find because if people are littering on purpose it’s just unfortunate that someone else has to go and clean that stuff up for them,” McDade said. “But not all litter is malicious, some of it is accidental.”
Throughout the cleanup, children ran around, wide-eyed and exuberant while finding trash as if it were a scavenger hunt. Parents watched nearby, instructing them on how to pick up items with the trash-grabbers supplied by both organizations.
McDade said that these events help to spark interest for environmental advocacy to participants of all ages.
As the event went on, rain started to pour making the sand slippery and the beach difficult to navigate. Regardless, volunteers persisted through the weather.
Participants dispersed along the seashore, wearing rain boots caked with mud and sand while carrying buckets filled to the brim with trash — a sign of a successful cleanup. Volunteers talked among themselves about the items they found while walking back up the beach entrance to the parking lot where a tent was set up for those that participated.
“I think the cleanup went really well. We had a really big turnout which is awesome that a lot of people from the community came,” Torggler said. “We all found a lot of trash, so now we’re just gonna sort and weigh it to see how much we got.”
The process after the cleanups include both organizations working together to sift through the trash and separate items into their respective disposal methods.
“We usually sort the items we find into trash or recyclable material bags and then we weigh them to see what the total weight is,” Torggler said. “After that, we just leave them by the correct garbage disposals and the city comes and grabs them.”
McDade said the event was vital to the mission statement of both organizations and believes it’s crucial to get involved and take action in order to see positive changes for the environment.
“I think building that sense of community and taking responsibility for the environment as community members is really important,” McDade said. “We can’t be pointing fingers at people all the time and we can’t always let other people do the job. We have to work together and clean up our world day by day.”