Mary Vertz of Casco Bay Cleanup Project scours East End Beach for trash June 23. She has been honored for her efforts. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

Mary Vertz has spearheaded the removal of more than a ton of trash from East End Beach since she first began picking up litter while walking her dog in 2018.

“It’s shocking,” she said of the more than 2,000 pounds she and other volunteers from her group, Casco Bay Cleanup Project, have collected along East End Beach and Eastern Promenade. “It takes a lot of effort and a lot of hands to pick up all that stuff because every time the tide comes in, it pulls things in with it and things sort of trickle down from the park as well.”

Washed up rope is donated and repurposed into dog leashes and other items. Contributed / Mary Vertz

On June 17 at its annual meeting, ecomaine, a Portland-based recycling and waste-to-energy operation, awarded Vertz and Casco Bay Cleanup Project an eco-Excellence award.

“We are able to handle recycling and trash, but only if it gets to our door,” said Matt Grondin, ecomaine’s communications manager. “Her effort to get out there and be proactive to clean up Maine’s waterways is really inspirational.”

Casco Bay Cleanup Project was nominated for the award by Troy Moon, director of Portland’s sustainability office and a member of ecomaine’s board of directors.

“We have seen how effective Mary is getting volunteers mobilized and out spreading the word about keeping our environment clean and reducing litter and trash from getting into the ocean,” Moon said. “Mary and her group are setting an amazing example and we wanted to recognize their outstanding efforts.”

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Vertz has held four to five organized cleanups a year and is always on the lookout for trash and debris during her frequent trips to the beach, often posting pictures of what was found on Instagram or Facebook.

Old bottles and food wrappers are commonly found during Casco Bay Cleanup Project events. Contributed / Mary Vertz

“It’s been a really cooperative, community thing,” Vertz said. “The organized cleanups have been the highlight. People really like to come out and help.”

Ecomaine has been handing out eco-Excellence awards annually for the last 15 years to businesses, schools, nonprofits or individuals based on the effectiveness, ability to increase awareness and benefit the community and ease of replication of their sustainability program or initiative.

“We place an emphasis on increasing public awareness of sustainability. Mary’s made this a visual and visceral campaign to showcase what is out there and what shouldn’t be,” he said.

Vertz said she finds a lot of fishing and marine debris, plastic, food wrappers, bottles and cans, cigarette butts, toys, dog poop bags and rope during cleanups. Rope is sometimes given to Wash Ashore Store, a Portland business that turns old boat lines into dog leashes, doormats and other items.

Casco Bay Cleanup Project efforts on two occasions have unearthed love letters enclosed in glass bottles.

“Once you start looking, you start seeing things everywhere, but if you aren’t looking, it is easy to walk by this stuff,” she said.

The next cleanup of East End Beach that Vertz has scheduled is at 5 p.m. July 5. She is also planning a cleanup of the Western Promenade in August.

For more information, email [email protected].

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