New Year, Same Problem: Litter


Plastic chairs, bags of concrete, empty bottles of Roundup, and a coffee machine. These are just a few of the improperly discarded items that friends and I found along the shore at Gull Cove in Portsmouth, R.I.

As soon as we pulled into the popular fishing area off Route 24, the litter was clearly visible in every direction. When we got out of our cars and started looking within the reeds, the trash issue became more overwhelming. There was no way we were going to successfully conquer the removal of all the debris, even as a group of six.

While exchanging looks that expressed defeat before we even started, we put on our gloves, pulled out our trash grabbers, opened our trash bags, and dispersed around the main parking area. “Anyone need a computer monitor or a recliner?” our friend Tim shouted sarcastically from across the lot. How else do you make light of a dire situation?

Gull Cove is a tidal estuary and home to herons, egrets, migrating ducks, and other wildlife. In the warmer months it is a popular spot for fishing, paddle boarding, walking, and other activities. Not only are our local waterbodies significant to recreational activities and the aesthetics of our island, clean waterways are crucial to the health and wellness of both our human and animal populations.

After an hour of cleaning, we met by our cars and started chatting about our craziest finds. All the while, our friend Lindsay continued to pluck tiny pieces of plastic from the parking lot. “I can’t unsee it anymore,” she professed. It’s true; once you take a deep dive into the issue of mismanaged waste, it’s hard to turn a blind eye. Although we did not collect all of the litter from Gull Cove, or even scratch the surface, our group of friends removed enough trash to fill five contractor bags each weighing up to 30 pounds.

Despite the awesome and ongoing coastal cleanup efforts by local nonprofits such as Clean Ocean Access and Save The Bay, we cannot depend on these organizations to solely solve our litter problem. It takes our community members joining forces and individual movements to protect our watersheds and wildlife.

As we enter a new year, consider gathering your friends and family once a month and head to a local roadway, park, beach, or neighborhood and host a litter cleanup. Let’s put boots on the ground and be stewards of our environment. It’s an opportunity to get outdoors and examine the scale of the single-use pollution in our neighborhoods and ultimately change our relationship with these items. We need nature, and nature needs us, so let’s step it up.

Audrey Svendsen publishes the Whales, Trails and Ales blog.


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  1. Thanks for doing your part! Here in Tiverton, the situation is just as bad — not only in and around our waterways, but our roadways and residential areas as well. We have a formal Litter Committee and a decent “adopt a spot” network of volunteers who put in the sweat equity, but the problem never seems to subside. At the residential level, part of the problem continues to be un-lidded recycling bins that don’t perform well in windy weather, but the other part is sheer negligence on the part of people driving by and tossing their stuff. What’s most frustrating — and certainly in the spirit of “many hands make for light work” — is that if homeowners took it upon themselves to pick up their respective frontage area (and maybe a little bit more), we wouldn’t have such a blight and eyesore in front of us.

  2. Thanks for publicizing this ever present issue of litter! Just along the 100’ of roadway in front of my rural home I find fast food wrappers, nips, beer and soda cans and its both disgusting and disappointing that people dont realize or just dont care! You’ve inspired me to take more action to clean up and preach to gain traction for this simple injustice I find so offensive.

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