Saturday, July 9, 2011


I was recently asked by somebody, "Why do you do this? Go to the beach, pick up trash, week after week?"

That somebody was the mirror. A face that I've long known mouthed the words. Why pick up another trash bag, and visit the beach another time? What exactly did I hope to accomplish?

In the deep Pacific, some one out of every 10 fish now has plastic in its gut. In the far wild north, 85% of Arctic fulmars fly with plastic inside them. Fish in just one of the world's five ocean gyres eat 12-24,000 tons of plastic a year. A year.

The world smokes 5.5 trillion cigarettes each year. If even 90% make it to the landfill, that still means 55 billion filters littered to the ground/ocean. Each year. 1744 toxic, persistent, plastic cigarette butts littered to the ground every second of every day.

Here in Maine, our lobster industry loses tens of thousands of vinyl-coated steel lobster traps to the deep sea every year. 70,000 in 2010 alone! Each trap, as the steel slowly rusts, sheds its vinyl in a thousand+ fish-bite sized bits. Storms belch the vinyl -- and the sharp, rusted steel -- up all over our beautiful coastline; ruined hulks of trap litter islands up and down the Maine Island Trail.

I've picked up nearly 9,000 pieces of garbage from 1/10th of a mile of coastline, 80% plastic. Maine has 3,500 miles of coastline. And the world still makes ever more, more, & more plastic. Plastic recycling just downcycles the waste, forcing still more virgin plastic to replace the recycled products. Plastic bag lobbyists fight common-sense taxes & fees; bottling companies fight common-sense bottle-return bills. Convenience & profit of the moment rule the day. And the ocean continues to fill with plastic.

So back to my question. What can a guy, a trash bag, and a camera do to change any of this? I don't know.

But I took my daughter to Bay View today.
The inheritor (with growing collection of found beach toys!) 
This is Ruby. She is four years old. There is no place in this world where she feels happier or freer than at the beach. Her birthright -- like all of ours -- was a chance to feel the timelessness of the sand & surf. Not to have the modern world swirl around her with every high tide. That birthright hangs in the balance, because of the choices of my & my parents' generation.

Ruby will inherit the world that I leave to her. I have to leave it better than I found it. That's my job.

So today, while she was making sand castles, I picked up my garbage bag and camera, and I walked the beach.

And you know what? On our way to this spot, there had been a plastic cup littered at the tide line. When our beach time was over, and we were walking back to the car, that cup was gone, thrown in the trash by a kindred spirit. Whatever it is you care about in this world, you're not alone.


  1. Hey Harry,

    This was exactly the post I needed to read today. Reading about what you do reinvigorates me to keep picking up trash, and trying to reduce my own plastic waste. Thank you for caring.


  2. What a nice thing to say! It's funny, I woke up today still kind of feeling the low ebb. Seeing your note turned that around in a hurry. Thanks for that.

  3. We should all be doing this at our favorite beach. I will be more diligent. The ripple effect.

  4. Thank you for doing what you do. And I love the documentation! Very nice article in the PH this morning. I'll bet you gain some beachcombers to assist you.
    I live in Windham near the Mt. Division Rail/Trail and have been picking up trash (and grousing about seemingly being the only one around here doing this!) and have recently considered blogging about the incongruity of the finds.
    Although the sheer amount and scope of your finds at the beaches eclipses the small number of bags of crap I pick up, I am always amazed at the diversity of objects people toss away thoughtlessly.
    Thank you again!

  5. Hi Rebecca, thanks for the nice post! Sorry it's taken me so long to drop a line back. Please let me know if you start up a blog, I'd love to read it. It really is bizarre what washes up, or gets tossed/lost in a gutter or gulley.

    You're definitely not alone. I'm learning that there's a flood of folks out there all trying to make a difference in their communities, it's really great to see.