About a dozen volunteers helped pick up 86 pounds of trash from Salter Grove Memorial State Park on Tuesday afternoon as part of Save the Bay’s contribution to the National Day of Service and as part of an international effort to keep the world's shorelines free of environmentally harmful debris.
Volunteers included Trent Batson from the local community activism group Friends of Salter Grove and groups of volunteers from the SEC filings division of Citizens Bank and employees of JetBlue, plus interns from Save the Bay and environmentally conscious members of the public.
As with all the cleanups organized by Save the Bay, volunteers are given trash bags, plastic gloves and grabbing devices, if they wish to use them, and then are set loose in the park to pick up every different piece of refuse you can imagine – from shards of glass to tampon applicators – and catalog their findings on field report sheets to help Save the Bay compile data into their annual cleanup report.
“I’d say single-use plastics,” said Debbie Woolley, volunteer management coordinator intern for Save the Bay on what the biggest contributor to litter is around the state. “Lids, straws, plastic forks – things that you can easily say no to. You don’t necessarily need a straw or need a plastic fork. It’s a slight convenience for a minute, but you don’t need any of those things.”
Indeed, plastic wrappers, utensils and bottles were not hard to spot around the wooded areas of Salter Grove nor in the reed-covered area exposed by low tide.
Woolley emphasized that the litter volunteers clean up is not from isolated incidents of bad behavior, rather it is a cumulative side effect of scale. Lots of people over a long time amounts to a lot of trash being left behind.
“This is not a few bad people littering all the time,” she said. “This is, you get out of your car and a plastic bag flies away and you don’t realize it. This is, you leave a trashcan out and an animal knocks it over and it rains and it goes in the sewer. This is not a few bad people, like ‘Oh, I don’t have to think about it.’ This is a death by a thousand cuts type of deal.”
Death by a thousand cuts was an appropriate turn of phrase, as glass from shattered bottles was unfortunately all over the dirt paths of the park. Andrea Moshier reported that just her group of five fellow volunteers from Citizens Bank gathered over 1,000 small pieces of broken glass in the two-hour cleanup.
Woolley said that counting all the individual small pieces of plastic and glass trash might appear futile, but reconciled the importance of the effort through a photographer she follows who works for National Geographic. The photographer launched a series during a work assignment in the South Pacific where he cataloged birds he found dead on beaches with stomachs full of plastic.
“It’s convenient to pretend it’s not happening, but it is,” she said.
Warwick was the only Rhode Island municipality to have a Save the Bay cleanup at one of their parks on Sept. 11, which has since 2002 been declared as a National Day of Service. However, there will be many more opportunities to help clean up your local beaches and parks, as the annual International Coastal Cleanup will kick off this Saturday, Sept. 15.
For a full list of cleanup locations and times, visit SaveBay.galaxydigital.com/international-coastal-cleanup/
According to the 2017 International Coastal Cleanup report for Rhode Island, 2,629 volunteers helped clean up 16,484 pounds of trash through 90 different cleanups throughout the state. This included over 42,000 pieces of tiny plastics and foam, over 36,500 cigarette butts, packages and cigar tips, over 32,000 plastic and glass drinking bottles, cans, caps, straws and stirrers and over 22,000 food wrappers and other one-use plastic items.
For those working with Save the Bay, while the scope of littering in the state and across the globe can be overwhelming, they recognize that it could be much worse in our immediate surroundings without the help of volunteers who show up, don the gloves and pick up what others have left behind – whether it was intentional or not.
“If you actually stop and think about the scale of what’s happening, it can be depressing,” Woolley said. “But it’s important to focus on what you can control. You can’t necessarily control regulations in place, or the laws in place or what other people do, but you can control what you do and your choices.”