There are few things that can ruin a beautiful day spent on the beach. I can think of one, though—unwittingly stepping on a sharp shard of glass inconspicuously mixed with shells and sand at the tidal line. Broken glass, discarded rusty bottle caps, and cigarette butts all plague our shores and can cause injury to us, our children, and our pets. For exactly this reason, my husband and I conjured up an idea last year that seemed just crazy enough to work. We theorized that with the right incentive, members of our Virginia Beach community could come together to clean up our beaches, targeting the small, dangerous trash that often goes overlooked. As effective as organized beach cleanups can be, we dreamed of an extensive cultural shift where pride in the beauty of our local beaches (as well as the possibility of a physical reward) could make an honest difference in our community.
We walked door to door to all of our favorite local restaurants, breweries, and businesses asking the owners if they would consider providing a small reward if a customer brought in a 16-ounce container full of glass, bottle caps, and cigarette butts. The name “Better Beach Project” seemed fitting, and from that, our slogan, “Make a Better Beach” was born.
The support we received was overwhelming. Everyone we pitched this idea to committed fully and encouraged us in our mission to make a better beach. Free lattes, discounted growler fills, and complimentary stacks of pancakes were just a few of the rewards offered by local business owners. By the end of the summer, we had 18 businesses involved, and from these businesses, 1,500 containers were filled. At 16 ounces a piece, we estimate 800 gallons of harmful trash were removed from the beach.
We honestly had no idea how successful this idea would be at the time, so we limited its scope to only the immediate Chic’s Beach area, but for our second year of this project, we have committed to expanding its coverage. Our goal is to reach 60 total businesses located from East Beach down to Sandbridge, effectively cleaning all of the beaches in Virginia Beach and Norfolk. One of our greatest successes so far has been teaming up with the Surfrider Foundation’s Virginia Beach Chapter, which has provided us an amazing platform to reach even more incredible people and organizations who all believe in our project.
In the future, we envision this idea as something anyone with a passion for keeping our beaches clean can replicate in his or her own community. From what we’ve seen firsthand when local businesses support the community, the community supports local businesses, and we do not think this idea is unique to Virginia Beach.
Note: You can learn more about The Better Beach Project online as well as how to create similar programs in your own local community here.