I was at a cleanup this weekend and took the opportunity to speak with several of the volunteers. A majority of them were sharing the same observation: “We had no idea there was this much trash down here.” It’s not that folks don’t understand pollution is a problem, they just didn’t realize the extent of the issue and its direct impact in their community. You see, hands down one of the most important aspects of our beach cleanup project at Coastal Playground is awareness. Over the years we’ve been able to educate thousands and thousands of people from various walks of life about the issues our playground now faces. This piece alone makes the project worth ten times its weight in gold. Why, you ask? Well, let me explain how over the past five years we’ve essentially created a walking army of beach protectors.
Year to Date, our cleanups have been attended by approximately 15,000 people, meaning 15,000 people physically removed trash from the sand with their own bare hands. Anyone who has ever attended a cleanup will tell you the cleanup never ends that day at the beach. All it really takes is two hours of picking up trash, and for most their mindset is completely transformed thereafter. No matter how hard they try; grocery stores, gas stations, parks, trails, harbors, beaches and anywhere else they might travel, the pollution we’re surrounded by sticks out like a sore thumb. Simply walking past trash or stepping over it after working your butt off at a cleanup becomes extremely difficult. The fact that these people are now more aware of the problem also leads to small changes in their day-to-day behavior. When you multiply that by thousands of people it all adds up to one HUGE impact. These volunteers are not only more likely to pick up trash they encounter but they are now also more apt to bring up these issues in a conversation, pay attention to laws affecting the ocean, and even purchase more eco-friendly products.
So while some people might be looking to a quick fix the fact of the matter is the more people we educate on the issues the better our odds of someone creating a solution. Until then we will keep growing our army and hope that with hard work and dedication we will be a catalyst for change.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about the author’s work visit Coastal Playground here.