Thursday September 26, 2013 | 09:42 AM
Posted by Harold Johnson

This week is the Ocean Conservancy’s “International Coastal Cleanup” week. Thousands of organizations around the globe are recruiting volunteers for it. They’re scouring their beaches & coastlines, picking up the mess left behind by modern consumer plastic culture.

This event started in 1986, when a staffer of the Conservancy put together a group to clean up South Padre Island, TX.

The cleanup has snowballed ever since. In 2012, after all the tallies were added up, more than 550,000 people were involved. And they picked up a staggering 10 million lbs of trash along 17,000 miles of coastline.

The trouble is, such huge numbers are leading some -- including even the EPA -- to call the cleanup a huge success.

I’m going to offer a new definition of insanity: Finding more & more & more trash year after year, for 25+ years straight, and calling each year a bigger & bigger success.


(Google image search on "Plastic Pollution")

Once-a-year coastal cleanups, by themselves, do nothing to clean our oceans. Instead, they give the false sense -- 550,000 times over -- that it’s fairly easy to fix them. One day of work, clean world? That’s dangerous.

So I have a new idea.

If you really want to make the lightbulbs go on, here’s what to do. Call volunteers, get them energized, get them thinking they’re about to make a difference. Get them together on your trashed beach of choice and get them jazzed. Really jazzed.

Then, have everyone get down in the sand, picking every last piece of garbage they can, til nobody can pick up one more scrap. Get in there with them. Make the beach spotless. Make it shine. Take a picture to remember how it looks spotless. Smile.

Then, gather your group at the same beach not in a year, but in a week.

There is nothing more jarring to the system than seeing a place you broke your back caring for, trashed again while the soreness of your effort is still in your limbs.

There’s nothing better to drive the point home that it’s time for a change.

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About the Author

Visiting a Maine beach in March 2010, Harold Johnson was shocked by the ocean-borne debris left by recent storms. He grabbed a garbage bag and a camera, and hasn’t looked back.

Since then he has spent most of his free time studying marine pollution, coastal ecosystems, and the mysteries and science of ocean and shore.

Copyeditor and writer by trade, historian and archaeologist at heart, Johnson’s philosophy is simple: Dig below the surface, travel the currents, make the connections, learn. Then share what you learn. He lives in Saco with his wife and young daughter. Follow on Twitter @FlotsamDiaries.

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