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Where’s the trash?

July 09 2008 | Jim's Blog,
by Jim

The Fourth of July brings with it something unique. No, I'm not talking about fireworks.

The Fourth of July usually brings... trash. More specifically it brings trash onto beaches.

In San Diego, where I live, this phenomenon has been so notable it's gained it's own brand "Morning after mess." The photo to the right of Pacific Beach last year captures the "Morning After Mess" perfectly. The beach looks like a monstrous frat party took place and then people just walked away. Again, this photo is not from this year.

This year, the beaches were relatively clean. Sure, I picked up ten pounds of trash in Del Mar but... I had to climb sea walls to find anything even close to the photo from years past. Surfrider San Diego's resident maven, Bill Hickman's reaction was "amazing."

Why is this?

Where did the trash go?

Was the high tide the night before THAT high of a tide that it washed everything away?

Did people stop littering... this year?

My philosophy is this, and I think it's a good message... culture is shifting. Culture is waking up. People are finding onramps into the environmental movement. Some data points that support this, granted they are specific to San Diego:
  • The city banned drinking on the beach. Look at the above photo... without the frat party atmosphere there is less thoughtlessness, less... trash. While many of us enjoy a cold beer on the beach... something was obviously out of control in P.B. to yield a beach looking like the above. File this under "one bad apple ruins the whole bunch..."
  • Surfrider and other groups created awareness around the problem by forming San Diego Clean Beach Coalition. We've done a stellar job getting people to connect the dots regarding cigarette butts, storm drain land/sea connectivity and beach cleanups.
  • The Clean Beach Coalition and the City of San Diego preempted much of the trash by putting out (and emptying at the right times) massive trash collection bins. Are they unsightly, sure... are they more unsightly than the above photo... no.
  • Local governments are understanding and better managing their local beach resources. Beaches are a draw. Beaches are an asset. Beaches need to be not taken for granted. Chad Nelsen, our Environmental Director, is doing his PhD on the economic value of surfing (here's his blog on that subject)... this is really a subset of the economic value of our coastal regions (one that is often missed).
This is a great story as it's a full circle story. As Marco Gonzalez shared in a chapter meeting a year or so ago, "we don't exist to just point out problems, we exist to help fix those problems." Our chapters all over the world do beach cleanups. Last year we did over 1,000 beach cleanups globally... but who likes to pick up someone else's trash? No one. We exist to understand the issues and trends around these kinds of phenomenons... and then work with whomever it takes to help solve the issue.

No, this isn't a "case closed" or "problem solved" in San Diego or anywhere else. In fact this year in San Diego alone, 1,000 volunteers at six cleanup sites picked up over 4,000 pounds of trash and 28,000 cigarette butts. But this kind of progress is notable. Kudos to all the crews, operating under the Surfrider banner or other environmental banners, that are taking on issues like this.
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