As we head into April and street sweepers clean up the sandy edges of streets newly exposed from underneath winter’s ice, there is a lot more than sand that’s left behind. Plastic bags, pet waste, snack wrappers and aluminum cans emerge from the melting snow in a less pretty way than “surprise candles” where gems and jewels emerge as your candle melts.

This is one of the less lovely aspects of spring in Maine. Much of the debris that’s left behind is not intentional, but rather the result of wind blowing items out of a curbside recycling bin or out of the top of a public trash can. Nonetheless, there is a substantial amount of cleanup to be done.

The connection to the coast is that, without picking up these shoreside items, they find their way into coastal waters. This is particularly true when the snow melts and spring rains come. The majority of designated coastal clean-up efforts happen in the fall. But, perhaps it is time to introduce a new element of spring cleaning — a spring coastal clean-up, except not on the coast. This is an opportunity to do a preventative cleaning that can make a big impact without having to get to the hard-to-reach places along the coast where it may eventually end up.

“Marine debris” is a catch-all term for the stuff of all sorts that ends up in the water and along the shore. It can come from the land or from out on the water and take on many forms from the tiny bits of plastic called microplastics that have gotten a lot of attention of late because of their impacts on wildlife that ingest and are harmed by them to giant plastic tubs that blow off a pier or from a park into the water and turn into floating rafts that may take on living passengers of the plant and animal variety.

Getting to the trash once it is in the water is complicated and often involves sophisticated machinery or volunteer underwater divers. But, picking it up at the end of your street is pretty easy.

In Maine, as in other places of the world, there are large coastal clean-ups in the fall. The International Coastal Clean-up, a project of the Ocean Conservancy, a D.C.based nonprofit where I worked for a number of years, is a worldwide effort that happens every year in September. Maine takes it a step further and dedicates an entire week to the effort called “Coast Week.”


Doing a clean-up like this in the fall is a kind of book-end to the summer and a way to tidy up after a lot of activity on the coast. Both Maine’s effort, as well as the International efforts, involve armies of volunteers including schools and community groups that make a big difference.

There is more information on both of these clean-ups at and  There are plenty of local organizations that also prioritize keeping the shores and waters clean like the Maine Island Trail Association (MITA), Friends of Casco Bay (FOCB) and OceansWide. All of these are great places to connect with to find out how you can be involved.

In the meantime, while doing spring yard work or maybe just on a walk down your street, take the time to pick up that piece of trash you notice every time you walk past it. Or, if you’re a jogger, join the latest trend in Sweden, “plogging.” It’s a combination of “jogging” and the Swedish phrase “plocka upp,” which means “picking up.” There’s even a website,, where you can connect with fellow ploggers around the world.

So, happy plogging and “coastal” cleaning up this spring. A little effort makes a big difference to nearby shores and waters.

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