(April 12, 2019) Dozens of volunteers picked up trash along the beach, wetlands, sand dunes and side streets of Ocean City last Saturday during the 10th annual Earth Day Cleanup event.
“This year we gave groups small bags for collecting cigarette butts and bottle caps as we are recycling the butts and using the bottle caps for artwork at Bay Day,” Sandi Smith, development and marketing coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, said. “The weather was a little bit of a hindrance, but overall we felt this year was a success. The people that came out were amazing and very litter conscious, which is always very reassuring that folks care about our environment.”
A total of 114 volunteers picked up trash around Ocean City. Of those volunteers, 30 were from Stephen Decatur High School.
One of the most common items picked up were cigarette butts, Smith said.
“We do not have the total amount collected as we are still waiting for tallies to come in and it takes us time to enter all the data. Typically with that amount of folks we can average that approximately 200 pounds of trash was collected,” Smith said.
Cigarette butts, bottle caps and plastic might have been the most common items found during the cleanup, but some surprises were found along the way.
“You never know what you are going to find when picking up trash,” Smith said. “A couple did bring a piece of paper back that was a registration for a cemetery plot in the 1930s.”
In addition, hundreds of tons of debris and trash were collected during last weekend’s bulk pick up in Ocean City. The annual event was considered a success for Public Works Waste Management Director Steve Brown.
“It was a beautiful weekend and it was very busy,” Brown said. “We got a lot of brush as the biggest bulk and construction debris and metals. There was more metal than we had last year.”
Although Brown did not have the overall total earlier this week for how much was picked up Saturday and Sunday, he did estimate there was more gathered this year compared to 2018.
Last year, 172.4 tons of bulk pickup was hauled overall, with 158 tons of it being brush debris and refuge. Another 5.3 tons were electronics, such as TVs, 6.8 tons were white electronic goods including refrigerators, stoves and washing machines, and 2.6 tons consisted of hazardous materials such as paint and chemicals.
Residents and guests are advised to be mindful of how non-biodegradable waste can impact the environment, especially the most common materials found during cleanups.
“Last year I remember seeing wads of tin foil in [Assateague horse] droppings,’” Billy Weiland, communications director and TFA founder, said. “Based on the bit of research I’ve done with plastics, I would argue that the majority of our planet’s biologic community has plastic in their system, fish and birds especially. Conceptually, it’s pretty easy to understand how the food chain works, and how these micro plastics are climbing up the food chain.”
Cardboard boxes can take less than two months to break down completely. However, cigarette butts can take 10 years to fully decompose.
Certain plastics, like the kind used for water bottles and straws may end up never decomposing, and can be ingested by marine life.
Plastic bags and balloons, often mistaken as jellyfish by marine life, can take anywhere from 10-20 years to fully decompose. Diapers can take 450 years to break down.
Metals and glasses, like aluminum cans, fish hooks and glass bottles, take even longer to break down. Cans can take up to 200 years, fish hooks 600 and glass bottles up to 4,000 or even one million years.
Other clean up events will take place throughout Worcester County the entire month of April.
Assateague Coastal Trust’s second annual Trash Free Assateague program will host a beach cleanup and interactive discussion on the North Point of Assateague Island Saturday, April 13, from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Less than a dozen people participated in the inaugural cleanup held last February. Despite the small number of volunteers, around 195 pounds of trash was picked up.
“That particular spot of Assateague has kind of become the filter for a lot of the trash and stuff that washes up on shore from Ocean City and West Ocean City,” Weiland said. “Bottle caps and cans like that ended up being almost 200 pounds.”
Assateague Coastal Trust will shuttle volunteers over to the North Point from Fisherman’s Marina on Sunset Avenue in West Ocean City from 7:45-9 a.m. with a 17-foot-long Carolina Skiff, which can hold a maximum of 16 people at a time. Registration is required.
A Trash Free Assateague discussion will take place on the island once all volunteers arrive. Following the presentation, volunteers will be able to sweep various areas of Assateague’s North Point from 9:30 to around 1 p.m.
“In the past couple of years there has been this resurgence of people latching onto the whole single-use plastic and littering thing that’s been a problem all along,” Weiland said. “But it just seems like in the past four or five years it’s really in the public eye now.”
Those interested in attending that have their own boat or kayak are also encouraged to meet with Assateague Coastal Trust on the back side of the island. The trip over will take approximately 5 minutes each way from Fisherman’s Marina in West Ocean City.
Beginning at 3 p.m., a post event gathering will take place in the Taco Shop at Mother’s Cantina on 28th Street where the public will have a chance to meet with ACT staff, learn more about the Trash Free Assateague program, and enjoy happy hour prices on food and drinks.
Trash Free Assateague was founded in February 2018 in response to a recognized growing need to address the excessive amount of plastic and trash accumulating on the North Point of Assateague Island. The program focuses on beach cleanups on Assateague throughout the year and aims to educate volunteers about the adverse environmental and health effects associated with plastics.
Those interested in joining can register online at www.ActForBays.org/trash-free-assateague.
On Saturday, April 20, the Surfrider Chapter of Ocean City will host a cleanup beginning at 11 a.m. Volunteers should meet at 135th Street near the ocean pathway and join the group in collecting litter on the beach.
“We’re taking care of our home and our environment, because if we don’t, no one else will,” Effie Cox, environmental chair for the Ocean City Surf Club, said. “We have a lot of people who care. We’re very fortunate in that aspect.”
For more information, visit the Surfrider Chapter of Ocean City Facebook page.
The Town of Berlin will hold its annual cleanup day on Saturday, April 27, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., wrapping up Take Pride in Berlin Week, which begins on Saturday, April 20.
“This year we are working with Comcast,” Mary Bohlen, administrative services director and liaison with the Park Commission, said. “They are doing their Comcast Cares Day. They encourage their employees to volunteer in their communities.
Last year, around 40 volunteers assisted in cleaning up the town, Bohlen said. Lunch will be provided by the Kiwanis Club. Volunteers can sign up at Stephen Decatur Park, Henry Park or Berlin Falls.
Berlin is also partnering with the Department of Natural Resources Forestry Service for a free backyard buffers tree giveaway which is available to residents county wide. Tree pickup is available April 27 at Stephen Decatur Park, 8:30 a.m. to noon.
For more information or to sign up, call Bohlen at 410-641-4314.