Only You Can Prevent Beach Trash

Last updated on February 11, 2024.

Trash with the words "100% Leakproof" on it
“100% Leakproof.” Photo by Marie Cullis.

In my recent article about my trip to Hilton Head Island and its environmental consciousness, I mentioned that the beaches are really clean and well-maintained. Even with their efforts, I still picked up about 300 pieces of trash during my week there. Of course, I logged these into my Litterati app.

I thought I could put the images of my trash to good use, to show people how they can prevent beach and ocean pollution!

I bet you already know a lot about this. But if you share this article, it might enlighten others who will then use preventative measures. And then the world could be a less polluted place!

“Worldwide, 73 percent of beach litter is plastic.” -National Geographic1

Common Types of Beach Trash

I noticed that the same types of trash commonly appear on beaches all over the country. So I’ve divided this article into sections based on the common types of trash I’ve found.

Image of a Plastic water bottle in the surf with a blue label.
Plastic water bottle almost in the surf. Photo by Marie Cullis.

Plastic drink bottles and caps

These are the most common items I pick up EVERYWHERE, and not just on beaches. Our love affair with drinks in single-use disposable plastic bottles and cups (I’m including styrofoam in this classification because styrofoam is chemically a plastic) is completely out of control. I even picked a red Solo cup that I used to collect cigarette butts and microplastics! I picked up many single-use disposable drink items like these:

What can you do?

Buy a reusable drink container (or two) and use that for all your liquid refreshments. I have two: a Kleen Kanteen for water; and a Hydroflask coffee cup. They handle pretty much everything.

If you must buy a beverage, please dispose of it properly.

Food and snack wrappers

I find this type of litter on the beach (and everywhere else) very often. This includes food wrappers, containers, zipper bags, etc. Below is an image of a washed-up cannonball jellyfish next to the plastic lid of a cylindric chip container.

Plastic bottle cap next to a washed up jellyfish.
Plastic lid next to a washed-up jellyfish. Photo by Marie Cullis.

Here are some additional examples of food and snack wrappers:

What can you do?

Follow the saying, “Leave it cleaner than you found it.” Or “carry in, carry out.” Don’t lose track of your trash and disposables. Put them inside your beach bag until you can find a proper trash can. You can also consume less prepackaged food, which will be better for your health as well.

Beach Toys

This is one item that is particular to beaches but so easily preventable. Children scatter and lose their things easily, and almost all beach toys are made of plastic. When people leave these items on the beach, they go straight into the ocean during high tide.

Toy pink crab sand toy.
Photo by Marie Cullis.
A toy buried in the sand.
Photo by Marie Cullis.

You can see how easily small toys are overlooked in the next image. Can you guess what that is?

A toy car buried in the sand.
Photo by Marie Cullis.

If you guessed a toy car, you’ve got a good eye!

Here are some other examples of left behind or broken toys:

Yellow plastic toy boat.
We found this and my son named it “Mr. Boat.” We kept this one and donated the rest. Photo by Marie Cullis.

In particular, we found multiple plastic bucket straps, as they are not usually permanently affixed. These are easily forgotten about but this cheap plastic will make it into the ocean by the next morning.

There are a few brands, such as Green Toys, that feature a rope strap that is not easily removed. The bucket is even made of recycled plastic. It’s the one we own and play with year-round.

What about the packaging for all of those beach toys?

A plastic net bag that the plastic beach toys were sold in.
A plastic net bag that the plastic beach toys were sold in, from American Plastic Toys Inc. Photo by Marie Cullis.

Below are images of a discarded boogie board left at a wash station near the beach. I’d seen these little styrofoam balls lining parts of the beach and I couldn’t figure out what they were from. I did not manage to get a good photo of them. Once I found this broken board and looked at it closely, I could see that these cheap boards were simply nylon or polyester fabric (fabrics made from plastics) over styrofoam. You could not make a worse product for the beach – a product meant to be used in the water that is made of cheap materials and not meant to last more than one vacation – WOW.

Please don’t buy these. This one made it into a proper trash can, but how many end up in the ocean?

What about the dog’s toys? These can be easily lost. And yes, they are made of plastics and other synthetics.

A yellow tennis ball made by Kong.
Photo by Marie Cullis.

What can you do?

The best thing you can do is to not leave beach toys behind. The best way to keep track of your children’s toys is simply to own less of them. Perhaps just one bucket and one shovel, for example. In general, kids don’t need many toys when playing outdoors to stay entertained and engaged. Besides the sand and water, the beach offers so many shells, sticks, seaweed, and other washed-up items that kids are curious about and love to experiment with.

Place broken toys in your beach bag immediately so that you don’t accidentally leave them behind.

As for dog toys, how about throwing a stick for Fido instead of a ball or plastic Frisbee?

Items related to smoking

This is another common item I find everywhere and not just at the beach. Corporations make cigarette butts out of synthetic materials that do not biodegrade. Plastic lighters are found in the stomachs of birds and marine animals. Honestly, I used to smoke a long time ago and I sometimes threw cigarette butts on the ground. I had no idea how bad they were for the environment. I pick them up regularly now as part of my Litterati mission, as I feel like I owe the environment for this terrible habit I used to have.

Cigarette lighter lying in the ocean's surf.
Photo by Marie Cullis.

I gathered dozens of cigarette butts and several lighters on the beach, here are a few examples:

I also picked up plastic tips from Swisher Sweets, a brand of inexpensive flavored tip cigarillos.

What can you do?

Don’t smoke! But if you do, can you please discard your waste properly?

Straws

Aren’t straws like so last year?

No, not really. Not yet. Despite straw bans in different parts of the world.

Everywhere we went in Hilton Head served straws, sometimes automatically in the drink. I’m not criticizing the Island for this, because it happens in my town too. But I hope all eateries eventually end this practice. The exception was the Watusi Cafe on Pope Avenue, which served paper straws – thank you!!!

What can you do?

Ask the server to not give you a straw before he or she brings your drink. I used to decline the straws when the server would set them down on the table, but since so many places automatically put them in the drink, I try to cut them off at the pass. Once that straw is opened and in a drink, it doesn’t matter whether or not I use it. The restaurant will now trash it.

I don’t use a straw very often anymore, but if I need one, I have my Final Straw.

Plastic Bags

I still found a couple of plastic bags on the beach despite the town’s ban on plastic bags!

White transparent plastic back stuck to dune fencing.
Photo by Marie Cullis.

What can you do?

Decline plastic bags no matter where you live! Bring your own cloth bag.

If you don’t have a bag, can you carry your items without one? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stopped at a store and purchased one item that the cashier bagged. I don’t need a bag for one item! Give them the bag back right away and say thanks but no thanks!

Many stores do have a paper bag option if you ask for one. If not, they likely have an empty box readily available that you can put your purchases in.

Beach tent/umbrella parts

Many people bring their own beach tents and umbrellas to the beach. But sometimes they leave waste from them. Below you can see where I found a plastic tent stake accidentally left behind and a zip tie of which I found several. The last image is of a full plastic water bottle that someone tied to a nylon string. I found this buried in the sand but the string was sticking out. Once I pulled it out, it was obvious that someone most likely used it as a weight to hold something down. Clever – but forgotten, an immediate pollutant – this would’ve been in the ocean after high tide.

What can you do?

Collect all of the parts to your tents and umbrellas, even if it’s trash. Double-check before you leave that you haven’t forgotten anything.

Everyday Non-Beach items

I find many items on the beach that are not necessarily beach items but items that people use daily. These items include wet wipes or baby wipes (most often not made of anything biodegradable even if the packaging makes that claim); dryer sheets; plastic dental picks; cellophane; condom wrappers; and even a bullet casing (pictured below).

Wet wipe or baby wipe in the sand
Wet wipe or baby wipe. Photo by Marie Cullis.
Wet wipe or baby wipe in the sand
Wet wipe or baby wipe. Photo by Marie Cullis.
Dryer sheet in the sand
Dryer sheet. Photo by Marie Cullis.
Bullet casing on the beach, red plastic.
Bullet Casing. Photo by Marie Cullis.

The most surprising things I’ve ever found on a beach were plastic tampon applicators in the Gulf of Mexico. At first, I thought, there’s no way someone changed their tampon on the beach! But I found not just one, but multiple of these and I’ve also since found them along the Tennessee River. It dawned on me that these items were not left behind by careless beach-goers, but more likely washed up from trash and from sewage disposal that made it into the ocean. It turns out that litter collectors colloquially call these “beach whistles.”

"Beach whistle," or tampon applicator
“Beach whistle,” or tampon applicator. Photo by Marie Cullis.

What can you do?

In general, the best thing you can do is cut down on disposable items, especially single-use disposable plastic items. Even if you’re not leaving these items on the beach, they’re making it onto the beaches and the items are only a portion of what’s washed up from the ocean. Meaning, there’s way more in the ocean.

The answer is to not use disposable items. It isn’t always easy, so just work on solving one problem at a time – that’s what I’m doing and sharing with you on this website!

Beach sunset
Photo by Marie Cullis.

Thanks for reading, please subscribe in the box above. Love your beaches and ocean. And keep being the change!

 

Footnote:

Plastic Free July!

Last updated on February 11, 2024.

Hi everyone, July is almost here! What does that mean for you? Hotter weather, fireworks, and barbecue?

Well, did you know it also means PLASTIC FREE JULY?!Choose to Refuse Single-Use Plastic logo, plasticfreejuly.org

What is Plastic Free July?

“Plastic Free July is a global yearly challenge where millions of people give up single use plastic during the month of July. It aims to raise awareness of the amount of single-use disposable plastic items in our lives and challenges people to do something about it.” 1millionwomen.com.au1

I wanted to write a short post to introduce you to this annual challenge. It was created by the organization plasticfreejuly.org.

Why Go Plastic-Free and Not Just Recycle?

Because only 9% of plastic sent to recycling actually gets recycled.

Recycling is NOT the answer.

Because plastic has entered every ecosystem across the planet.

Plastic containers of convenience food at the supermarket.
Plastic is embedded in our culture, especially surrounding convenience foods. Photo by Marie Cullis.

Let go of Shame

Are you just discovering the ramifications of disposable plastics? Or are you still struggling to take your first step toward eliminating disposable plastic from your house and life? Or have you already gone plastic-free?

Whichever situation you find yourself in, the first thing you need to do is let go of any guilt or shame. I don’t want you to feel those emotions when it comes to your habits surrounding plastics, because negative feelings won’t propel you to action.

I want you to feel enlightened, hopeful, enthusiastic. If you’re just starting and you’ve already thought about these issues then you’ve already consciously taken the first step. Go you!

Sign up to take the Challenge!

Resources

There are many organizations, websites, films, and social media groups dedicated to the plastic crisis and going plastic-free. I’ve listed my favorites on my Recommended Websites page. Please check out some of my other articles related to plastic here and here.

Sea turtle swimming in the ocean - an underwater view looking down.
Image by Amanda Martino on Pexels.

Beyond July

July is a great month to become aware of the problems and to start. However, once July is over you can keep going! You can help prevent the plastic crisis from getting worse. Be the change!

Before you go, if you have four minutes, please watch this video from The Story of Stuff Project:

Thanks for reading, Happy July!

 

Footnote:

Inspiration Abounds on Hilton Head Island

Last updated on February 11, 2024.

Hilton Head Island after sunrise, the wide beach at low tide with sun rising at center. People walking.
Hilton Head Island just after sunrise. Photo by Marie Cullis.

If you read my article about my family’s weekend trip to Hilton Head Island last fall, then you already know how much we love the island. We recently returned from a week-long trip there, and inspiration was all around! Besides the natural beauty of the island and the gorgeous beaches, there are many environmentally conscious things I appreciate about Hilton Head Island.

My son sitting in the surf, looking out at the vast and beautiful ocean.
My son sitting in the surf, looking out at the vast and beautiful ocean. Photo by Marie Cullis.
Sunset on Hilton Head Island, silhouetted tress with the orange sun just behind them, blue and orange hued sky above.
Sunset on Hilton Head Island. Photo by Marie Cullis.

Plastic bag ban in Beaufort County, South Carolina

They implemented a plastic bag ban last fall, and I am here to tell you that from a tourist’s perspective, businesses have not been hurt by this. People were shopping in all the shops and supermarkets and the plastic bag ban did not seem to deter anyone from spending money. I have not found any studies on the result of this ban in the last 8 months, but I imagine the impact has been huge!

Unfortunately, I read that Target and Walmart are using supposedly “reusable” plastic bags. However, since they are made of the same material as regular plastic bags, they defeat the whole purpose as far as plastic production goes. I did not happen to shop at either store while there so I did not witness this first hand.

At the other shops and stores I visited, I received only paper bags when I didn’t have my cloth bags with me. I love it! Can’t we do this everywhere?

Dunes with a palm tree against a cloudless blue sky.
Gorgeous dunes on HHI. Photo by Marie Cullis.

Wildlife

There’s a lot of cherished and protected wildlife on the island. We saw all types of birds, including pelicans – my favorite! We saw dolphins, tons of fish, and several types of crabs. There are also bald eagles, alligators, and turtles living on the island but we didn’t personally get to see those this time. The local government’s website educates on sustainable living, the types of local wildlife, native plants, biodiversity, and ecosystems, and how everyone can help protect those things.

Pelicans flying in a line over the ocean near sunset, pink and purple hues on a blue sky.
Pelicans flying in a line over the ocean near sunset. Photo by Marie Cullis.
Baby crab, dark gray.
Baby crab! Photo by Marie Cullis.

Sea Turtle Conservation Efforts

Although we did not see sea turtles this trip, we saw at least 7 cordoned loggerhead sea turtle nest areas. They were marked with orange signs provided by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, which alerts the public about the protection of this endangered species through federal and state laws.

Loggerhead sea turtle nest sign, cordoned and marked by the South Carolina department of Natural Resources.
Loggerhead sea turtle nest, cordoned by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Photo by Marie Cullis.
Three loggerhead turtle nests on the north end of the island (Port Royal area), cordoned off by the SC Department of Natural Resources.
Three loggerhead turtle nests on the north end of the island (Port Royal area). The SC Department of Natural Resources cordoned off the nests. Photo by Marie Cullis.

Many Atlantic coast towns have laws, regulations, and organizations to protect sea turtle nests. On Hilton Head Island, lights on buildings and hotels cannot shine in the direction of the beach. People are only permitted to use red or “turtle-safe” flashlights on the beach between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. between May and October. They have a volunteer organization (Sea Turtle Patrol HHI) that patrols, monitors, and reports on sea turtle nests. They also clean up beach litter and plastics.

Recently, a Kemp’s Ridley turtle made a nest on Hilton Head Island, a first-time event for the most endangered of all the sea turtle species! Wow!

The Coastal Discovery Museum has an “Adopt-a-Nest” Program, which not only sponsors the protection of a sea turtle nest but also supports the museum’s educational programs. Of course, this idea excited me so I adopted a nest while writing this post! They emailed me to let me know that my nest will be the 277th one this year and that they’ll keep me informed on the progress of my adopted nest.

Can I inspire you to adopt a nest as well? Just use the link above!

UPDATE February 11, 2024: Since writing this article, I have been able to adopt a sea turtle nest in Hilton Head every year. It’s one of my ways of giving back.

Baby sea turtles on the beach.
Photo by Skeeze on Pixabay.

Coastal Discovery Museum

The Coastal Discovery Museum on the island is a great non-profit and Smithsonian Affiliate, dedicated to educating and protecting the natural resources, history, and ecosystems of the region. Their mission “inspires people to care for the Lowcountry,” through their many programs, exhibits, talks, and tours. What a great organization.

We’ve visited several times in past years but this year we did a Dolphin and Nature Cruise with the museum and really enjoyed it. And yes, we did see dolphins! The museum docent provided a dolphin skull replica and spoke about the anatomy, diet, and lifestyle of the local dolphins. The captain provided a rich tour of the history and nature of the island. Both the captain and museum docent were very knowledgeable and kept the passengers engaged for the entirety of the cruise. They even let each of the kids drive the boat for a few minutes!

My son driving the boat on the Dolphin & Nature Cruise.
My son driving the boat on the Dolphin & Nature Cruise. Photo by Marie Cullis.

Beach Trash

Hilton Head Island’s beaches are very clean and well-maintained. And there are both trash and recycling cans up and down the beach. Even so, I still picked up about 300 pieces of trash during my week there. Of course, I logged these through Litterati (see also my article on Litterati). My next article will be about the types of trash I found and what you can do to prevent beach trash and ocean pollution!

Thanks for reading, and please subscribe!

Book review: “100 Heartbeats: The Race to Save Earth’s Most Endangered Species” by Jeff Corwin

Last updated on February 11, 2024.

“Every year, more than 20,000 species tragically disappear from our planet.”-Jeff CorwinBook cover of "100 Heartbeats" by Jeff Corwin, with Corwin's profile facing a rhinoceros nose.

Jeff Corwin has hosted many television shows about animals. But he’s so much more than a  popular television show host. He’s a biologist, wildlife conservationist, educator, advocate, and voice for endangered species across the planet.

This book caught my eye at the local used bookstore and I had to buy it. This is a very intelligible book meant for all audiences. Corwin did not write it academically but he does cite an immense amount of research and scientific studies. I honestly had a hard time putting it down even though it deals with a depressing subject matter. But Corwin countered much of the sorrowful information with stories of progressive movements and hope. And all of it is so important for us to know.

The Title

The title comes from the most critically endangered species we are about to lose which has fewer than 100 individual living members left. All are direct consequences of the actions and behaviors of humans. Here, Jeff Corwin talks about the film and book:

I have not been able to find the companion documentary they referred to yet, but if I do I will update this post.

The Contents

Corwin explained the story of each species delicately yet methodically. I read one review where Corwin was criticized for jumping around from one species to the next in different regions of the world. But one glance at the table of contents reveals that he was clearly dividing his book into thematic sections about the major human causes of endangered species. The sections were:

    • Global warming and habitat loss
    • The introduction of non-native species, pollution, and disease
    • The exploitation of animals for products and economy

I will say that that same review applauded Corwin for his genuineness and for highlighting how we can motivate people around the world to change.

“If you’ve ever doubted that a small group of people can make a big difference in the face of a tide that seems inexorable, organizations like the WWF and the IRF are proof that such a change is possible.” -Jeff Corwin

The Endangered Species list is vast

At the time this book was written, there were 16,928 endangered species in the world. I was hoping that that number had decreased since 2009, but I figured it probably increased at least slightly.
But I was devastated to discover that as of 2024, there are 44,000 endangered species, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They are the global authority on endangered species. Corwin cited the IUCN heavily in this book. If you’re not familiar with the IUCN, please check out this 3-minute video that will help you learn about them:

Corwin explained that there were 3,246 critically endangered species (the highest risk category for endangerment of extinction by the IUCN) in 2009. He wrote: “Whether we realize it or not, we need them…We’re inextricably bound with nature. When we put the survival of the natural world in jeopardy, we simultaneously put our survival in jeopardy.” We’ve harmed landscapes and habitats and entire ecosystems, and it’s going to hurt every species, ourselves included.

“We can’t fall back on letting nature take its course when we’ve changed the land and its inhabitants in ways that nature never intended.” -Jeff Corwin

Habitat Destruction

Habitat destruction is the number one cause of species extinction worldwide. It makes sense – as the human population increases, human activities spread and drive the land to a state in which the land can no longer support the indigenous species. Urban sprawl, logging, mining, and commercial fishing are all culprits, but agriculture is the main source of habitat destruction.
An orange digger clearing a forested area.
Deforestation and habitat destruction is the number one cause of species endangerment. Image by Robert Jones from Pixabay.

Oil & Drilling

We all know oil spills are bad. When animals try to lick off oil from their fur or feathers, “the effect is toxic and can induce kidney failure.” They also rely on their fur or feathers for warmth, but when they’re coated in oil, the animal can freeze to death. “Unless they’re rescued – a monumental feat in remote regions – animals affected by oil spills typically die of hypothermia.” This makes me want to stop driving immediately. How do we stop supporting this global need and greed for oil?

Close up of Gas pumps. Image by David ROUMANET from Pixabay.
Image by David ROUMANET from Pixabay.

Poaching, Slaughter & the Exotic Pet trade

Poaching is another major cause of species endangerment and extinction, although it is not always defined as just the slaughter of wild animals. It often includes animals captured for the exotic pets trade, for which there is a huge demand on the black market. Humans remove those animals from their habitats, affecting the ecosystem. This reduces the populations in more ways than one – since they do not reproduce in that ecosystem, their numbers obviously decline further.

Slaughter for commercial profit is most visible from the slaughter of elephants and rhinoceroses. Humans kill these large animals for only one body part, the tusks or the horns. They leave the rest of the animal to rot. My family and I recently visited the Nashville Zoo and I was impressed with their exhibits about critically endangered species. I took a photo of one about the rhinos because the image so shocked me that it moved me to tears:

Exhibit of a slaughtered rhino from the Nashville Zoo. Photo by me.
Exhibit from the Nashville Zoo. Photo by me.

We must do better.

“While the dinosaurs disappeared as the result of a natural but catastrophic event, the current causes of extinction are largely the result of human behavior.” -Jeff Corwin

Sepia toned photograph African elephant walking with the sky in the background. Image by Christine Sponchia from Pixabay.
African elephant. Image by Christine Sponchia from Pixabay.

Inspiration

Even though the book made me quite depressed about the state of species across the Earth, the book was very inspiring. It inspired me to feature this review of the book, to read more on the topics, and to write future posts on the subject. Corwin offered hope at every turn.

“We’re not powerless, though. As demonstrated by the success story of the American bald eagle, great strides can be made through compassion and dedication.” -Jeff Corwin

Bald eagle feeding a baby eagle in a large nest. Image by skeeze from Pixabay.
Image by skeeze from Pixabay.

I found the dedication Corwin wrote to his daughters particularly inspiring. Here’s part of it:

“To my daughters…you are both so very precious to your mother and me; your optimism and trust, reflected through a lovely lens of innocence, inspires us…While at present the creatures who share Earth with us are in jeopardy, I have faith that my generation will make things right so you and your children will have the opportunity to thrive upon a rich, healthy, and diverse planet. We will not fail you.

That’s beautiful, and it’s exactly how I feel about my own child. My son is precious to me and I do not want to leave a devastated planet behind for him to deal with. I want to be part of the change!

I will not fail him.