Public Health & Recreation

One-Person Litter Patrol has Removed 40,000-Plus Pieces of Trash from Rhode Island Shoreline


During a single day in May 2019, Geoff Dennis and trusted sidekick Koda collected 282 balloons from the Little Compton, R.I., coastline. It’s the duo’s largest balloon haul. (Courtesy photo)

The mission is simple but the work is aggravating, especially since Geoff Dennis’ four-legged buddy no longer joins him on the almost-daily treks. Also, he doesn’t get paid.

For the past decade, the Little Compton, R.I., resident has been picking up other people’s trash that accumulates along the local shoreline. Between 2012 and 2020, Dennis picked up 35,607 pieces of litter from the banks of the Sakonnet River, at Goosewing Beach Preserve and a few other places. The vast majority of it was some form of plastic, from bottles to spent shotgun shells.

Despite “still missing my boy Koda” — his trusted black Lab died two days after Christmas 2020 at the age of 14 — the longtime quahogger and bird photographer remains a one-person cleanup crew.

“I miss him as much today as that last day with him,” Dennis said.

His immersion into litter began in 2012 while monitoring piping plovers at Goosewing Beach for The Nature Conservancy. The amount of plastic debris at his feet disgusted him.

When he returned, he picked up more than 100 Mylar balloons from the area. He’s been picking up coastline trash ever since. He’s bothered that 10 years later, most people still don’t seem to care about the state’s growing plastic problem.

Dennis said graduation time brings the greatest number of depleted balloons. July and August are the height of trash collection.

pile of balloons on grass
Mylar balloons were the top item Geoff Dennis picked up last year along the local coastline. (Courtesy photo)

He recently tallied up his 2021 trash scorecard. Here is the breakdown:

Mylar balloons: 1,388.

Plastic bottles and aluminum cans: 1,349. He said year-end totals do not include old plastic bottles that have “become eggshell brittle and started the process of fragmenting. They go directly to trash.”

Plastic bottle caps: 1,209.

Latex balloons: 780. He said latex balloons are usually only the mouth piece, or ring piece, with attached ribbon. “I do find shredded pieces of latex too, but tally only the ring. Sometimes difficult to count when it may be a 30-plus mass of rings and tangled ribbon.”

Plastic straws: 328.

Spent plastic shotgun shells: 302.

Nips: 195.

Rubber gloves: 164.

Plastic and foam cups: 132. He said Dunkin’ Donuts (67) and Cumberland Farms (38) cups are the most common. “CF is still using foam cups and all found are foam. DD ceased using foam in 2020. Plenty of their paper cups were collected but are not in the tally.”

Golf balls: 119.

Plastic lids for plastic and foam cups: 104.

Plastic wads for shotgun shells: 86.

Plastic bags: 66.

Plastic cigarette lighters: 50.

Plastic K-cups: 45.

Since Dennis returned to Goosewing Beach 10 years ago to pick up Mylar balloons, there are 41,924 fewer pieces of litter along the Little Compton shoreline.

A trio of bills has been introduced during the current General Assembly session to address the Ocean State’s plastic pollution problem, including legislation to ban the sale of nips.

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