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beach clean up little girl

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To celebrate the fact that Planet Earth had greenhouse gas creation stabilize for the first time in 40 years, we’re doing a small series on little local ways you can help continue changing our emissions and waste habits.

Just this week, I was given a lot of reason to think about our beaches and natural areas when a giant tanker leaked fuel oil in waters surrounding beautiful Vancouver, Canada. Considered among the world’s most beautiful harbors, the leak spurred an outcry on the internet. For those of us who call Vancouver home, it was a devastating reminder how much that nature means to our lifestyle.

When my friend and fellow BuildDirect Blog: Life At Home author Tanya Roberts commented on Facebook that she felt “powerless,” I despondently said to her, “That’s because you are powerless.”

But I was wrong.

Cleaning up the environment ourselves

Maybe we can’t stop oil spills. Maybe we’re not even allowed to help clean up the toxic goop. But at least there are little things we can do to be a part of negating ecological damage done by man and modern life.

Enter the nature clean-up party.

You don’t need the government or charitable organizations to spur you into action, you can do it yourself! A few years ago, I decided to do a beach clean-up on my own. I posted the date and time on Facebook, let all my friends know. I told them what to bring, and come that day and time, we all showed up with gear in-hand and tackled one of the lower-income beaches known for partying, ergo trash.

picking up trash girl

In just a couple hours, 10 of us had filled 3 big trash bags full of refuse. From styrofoam to syringes, everything we found was something that we kept out of the ocean, where it might have one day floated all the way to the “Pacific Garbage Patch.”

Why bother?

Here in BC, a beachwalker made world headlines one day when he was walking along a Vancouver Island beach, on Canada’s West Coast, where he spotted a Harley Davidson motorcycle that washed up whole after somehow floating from Japan’s tsunami, across more than 3,100 miles of the Pacific, and in only 13 months.

Garbage, waste, all of it — it’s mobile. It doesn’t stay put. That garbage underfoot in a park doesn’t stay where you leave it. I’m forever seeing trash in the ocean around me, especially in tourist season, when a lot of folks who don’t live around oceans are not very conscious of where their trash ends up when they don’t put it in trash cans.

Trash kills, too. Whether it’s plastic bags and other waste consumed by marine life, shiny metal and plastic eaten by birds, it all poses a risk, as this article explains well.

Clean-up parties are easy, and fun!

The great news is that it’s super-duper easy to do a clean-up, and the impact is big and immediate, if only local. All you need to do is arrange a time and place to get together, bring some gear, and get cracking.

The one consideration is that you need a place to put the trash when you’re done. I guarantee you that anything from coyotes and raccoons to squirrels and neighborhood dogs will know that park or beach is a smörgåsbord. If you can’t secure the trash, then you’re basically leaving an easy-to-get buffet out when you’re done. So either arrange with local officials, or have a dumping place, or use trash bags small enough to cram into local public trash bins.

With that said, here are your basic clean-up party steps:

  • Pick a time and place. There’s no “wrong” answer here, but if you know places with a lot of outdoor eating and partying, they’re probably the best to attack.
  • Create an event listing on Facebook, if you can, and invite anyone you think might be interested. Make it a public event so folks can share it with their networks. Just pick a day or time that works for you, rather than trying to appease a group, because it’s always gonna be a bad time for SOMEone.
  • Tell everyone to dress appropriately — wear full-length pants, preferably thicker like jeans, and full sleeves — things they won’t mind getting dirty if it comes to that. You don’t want to encounter things like rusty metal or syringes, but you might, and clothes will protect you.
  • Remind them they’ll also need gear — things like rubber gloves, preferably biodegradable trash bags, and things like “grabber” tools are all invaluable. Tell everyone to bring their own, but bring extra bags, because you’d be surprised how quickly take-out cups and other containers will fill your bags up.
  • Know where your trash will go at the end. Be careful not to fill any public trash cans up too full, especially in the morning before a busy day gets underway. You don’t want overflow to create the same problem you just tried to solve!

Common sense tips

You don’t know what’s in the junk you’re picking up and discarding. If you get any cuts or scrapes, make sure you’re cleaning wounds up properly and you’ve had a tetanus shot in the last decade. Mostly, you’ll be dealing with paper and plastic, some food products, maybe a shoe or a boot — nothing too freaky. But it’s all crap you’ll be rescuing from wildlife and waterways, which is awesome!

It’s funny how empowered you feel after you’ve entered a park or a beach and spent a couple hours making it beautiful and safe. It’s rewarding, and gives you that old-school sense of community we so often go without these days.

If you don’t want to do specifically a “beach clean-up,” then organize a barbecue party instead, and tell everyone the price of admission is to spend a half-hour at the end just grabbing trash in the area. That’s helpful too! (Just don’t forget your gloves.)

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.