We all share blame for littering, and we can all help too

Posted 9/13/18

Perhaps you've heard the story of the person who walked alone on a beach, meticulously placing thousands of starfish, one at a time, that had been washed ashore by a bad storm back in the sea. Another person comes across this sight and incredulously asks

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We all share blame for littering, and we can all help too


Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the person who walked alone on a beach, meticulously placing thousands of starfish, one at a time, that had been washed ashore by a bad storm back in the sea. Another person comes across this sight and incredulously asks the other, “Why are you bothering with that? You can’t possibly save them all.”

“No, I cannot,” the helper replies before scooping up another starfish. “But I can help this one.”

The allegory presents an age-old dilemma posited to humans from every generation: What can I, alone, do to help a situation much bigger than myself? When defeat seems unavoidable, and the task ahead seems daunting beyond solution, do you try anyways? Does it even matter?

The example of the starfish on the beach can be substituted for another huge problem we face today, especially in the Ocean State, but also abroad everywhere there is coastline – the enormous amounts of trash and litter strewn about on our shores.

Take a walk down any beach in Warwick, Narragansett, Newport, or all the way out on an uncharted island in Belize, and you’ll find evidence of humans even when there are none for many miles to be found. Studies estimate that 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean every year, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a monstrous accumulation of marine debris that has collected at the terminus point of coastal currents, grows larger every day.

To think of the impact this is causing on our ecosystem – the fish and waterfowl that perish due to eating large amounts of small, sometimes nearly microscopic bits of plastic, the coral reefs that are becoming bleached due to disease that some hypothesize is exacerbated by the presence of plastics – it can be cripplingly depressing to the point of abject apathy.

However, while one person cannot solve the world’s littering crisis on their own, a group of many thousands, many millions ideally, might be able to make a difference after all.

This Saturday will mark the second annual start to the International Coastal Cleanup, a worldwide effort to clean up debris on our coastlines to prevent them from being washed out to sea and contributing to the larger problem of ocean pollution.

In its first year, over 100 nations consisting of over 800,000 volunteers removed more than 20 million pieces of trash from beaches and various waterways throughout the world. They collected over 2.4 million cigarette butts, over 1.5 million plastic bottles and over one million plastic bottle caps. They picked up about 4.7 million little pieces of foam, plastic and glass that may have gone into the system of a marine animal or bird, possibly killing them.

Rhode Island, despite its size, contributed its fair share to this massive global effort. Coordinated through 90 cleanups around the state organized by Save the Bay, 2,629 Rhode Islanders picked up 156,537 pieces of trash (weighing a total of 16,484 pounds) that littered our beautiful coastlines.

The effort began anew on Tuesday, as a dozen people volunteered their time to help clean up Salter Grove Memorial State Park. They picked up 86 pounds of trash in just two hours, with one group alone picking up over 1,000 little shards of glass.

The cleanup brought about some interesting concepts. One being the frustrating inevitability of scale. There are simply so many people on our planet that, simply over the course of time, litter is going to happen just by accident – such as a bag flying out of a trash can when a garbage truck lifts it to be emptied. If that happens just a few times every trash day, over the course of a year it adds up to a mind-boggling amount of garbage in our environment.

When you approach the problem from this standpoint, rather than the more traditional, “I don’t litter, so therefore I’m not part of the problem” mentality, it makes the case that this is not just an issue caused by careless teenagers and ignorant adults. This is all of our problem, and we can all be part of the solution simply by making more responsible choices and being more aware.

These solutions have been around for decades – use reusable bags when you go grocery shopping; don’t utilize one-use plastics like plastic cups, plates or silverware if you can otherwise avoid it; don’t buy products that contain plastic microbeads; recycle properly and consistently.

If you’re not able to change your lifestyle to help protect our amazing resources, you can always roll up your sleeves, throw on some work gloves and join a coastal cleanup. Go to Volunteer.savebay.org/international-coastal-cleanup/ to find one near you.

After all, you may not be able to clean up every beach, but being in Rhode Island means you aren’t far from one locally – so you can at least help clean up that one. And yes, it does matter.


10 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • richardcorrente

    Dear editor,

    In an ideal world that would work. But Warwick beaches are not in that world. They get littered repeatedly. I have helped clean the litter on Oakland Beach with the efforts of Friends of Warwick Ponds and also Save The Bay. Both times we cleaned 20+ large bags of litter.

    The fact is, even with volunteers assisting, Warwick NEEDS their beaches cleaned. That cleanup can be paid for by all taxpayers or by the beachgoers. I prefer to have those that "play, pay", not 100% of the taxpayers. Maybe the City could get low-cost cleaning from the ACI work detail department.

    Happy September everyone.

    Thursday, September 13, 2018 Report this

  • CrickeeRaven

    Despite his humiliating loss yesterday, the two-time losing candidate still support raising taxes on beachgoers. Mayor Solomon rightly earned many votes when he withdrew plans to charge parking fees at our local beaches. The two-time loser apparently has nothing better to do than repeat his failed ideas on this website, further proving that honest, taxpaying voters were correct in overwhelmingly rejecting his candidacy.

    Thursday, September 13, 2018 Report this

  • richardcorrente

    Wrong again Crispee,

    I said that someone has to pay for the beach clean-up. I said I would rather have the beachgoers pay as opposed to ALL taxpayers. Solomon didn't earn ANY votes when he flip-flopped on the beach fees. No politician ever has. First he was in favor, then against. NO ONE gains votes when they flip-flop. It shows a lack of trust.

    Also note that I gave a new cost-reducing suggestion about using the ACI work detail. That one helpful suggestion alone is more than you have made in the years you have been spouting off in this comment section. All you do is complain, condemn, and criticize. Never did you EVER suggest an idea that would be of ANY benefit to the 80,000 taxpayers that I love.

    Get it right Crispee, you anonymous coward of a critic!

    And let's get one more thing straight. I have JUST as much right to comment on this site as you do. Got it Mark?

    Happy September everyone.

    Thursday, September 13, 2018 Report this

  • gwsjr75

    The problem of litter in Warwick goes well beyond the capabilities of people picking up trash here and there. Every roadside, every beach, and every vacant lot is full of litter. Follow Pick Up Warwick on Facebook for just some examples. The City needs to take the lead and develop a comprehensive enforcement and clean-up strategy if this problem is to be addressed seriously.

    Thursday, September 13, 2018 Report this

  • davebarry109

    Littering is a huge pet peeve of mine. But dear editor, please explain how we are all responsible for it? We are not. Stop with this 'we' stuff.

    Thursday, September 13, 2018 Report this

  • CrickeeRaven

    "Solomon didn't earn ANY votes when he flip-flopped on the beach fees."

    Mayor Solomon earned 4,900 more votes than the two-time failure, and the mayor recently told the Beacon that he received letters of support thanking him for deciding against parking fees as local beaches.

    So, in fact, Mayor Solomon did earn votes by doing that.

    "All you do is complain, condemn, and criticize."

    Yet another hypocritical and juvenile comment by the two-time loser, who complains ["First he was in favor, then against."], condemns ["you anonymous coward of a critic"] and criticizes [" It shows a lack of trust"] in his last comment.

    "Got it Mark?"

    The two-time failure continues to humiliate himself with false accusations about who is using this screen name.

    Honest, taxpaying voters should feel 100% justified in rejecting his pathetic candidacy yesterday because of his behavior on this website, which he just confirmed is not meant to to anything except bring attention to himself.

    Thursday, September 13, 2018 Report this

  • Cat2222

    In the meantime, there are many opportunities to volunteer to clean up the beaches. I too have volunteers for Save the Bay and will continue to do so even though I do not use the beaches. It is good exercise for a good cause and it will make you feel good for helping out the community at large. Hope you see you all there!

    Monday, September 17, 2018 Report this

  • JohnStark

    davebarry is absolutely correct. Stop with the collective guilt. People who litter are dirt bags. Period. Cat is also correct. The problem is that those who assist with cleanups are not typically litterers in the first place. Take a look at the person who tossed his water bottle or Dunkin' cup on the beach at Conimicut or Oakland Beach. Their behavior is a middle finger to a society that will eventually take care of them.

    Wednesday, September 19, 2018 Report this

  • richardcorrente

    Dear John Stark, Davebarry109 and others,

    Respectfully, I disagree. Everyone is to blame in varying degrees. The person who drops the litter is the worst. But when we see it and do nothing to stop it, we are also a lesser offender. When I see litter at the supermarket, I try to pick it up and dispose of it in the trash at the entrance. We all need to do more. We are all partially to blame for allowing it. We all need to be part of the solution, as Cat2222 suggests, myself included.

    Happy September everyone.

    Friday, September 21, 2018 Report this

  • Cat2222

    I am not sure if anyone will bother to come back to this article but I wanted to update what I found while at Goddard Park volunteering for Save The Bay.

    There were 113 pounds of trash picked up between 10:00am - 12:00pm. That is a lot of trash. My goodness, people really don't care about what they leave behind. Used diapers, dog poop in bags, condoms, balloons, plastic, glass, ribbons,etc. So much trash!

    But you know what? I had a lot of fun doing this with a group of friends. It became a competition and the loser had to buy coffee. It is worth two hours of your time to help keep our beaches clean. Save The Bay is doing their best to keep our beaches environmentally friendly. We can also do our part even if we didn't make the mess. I encourage everyone to get out and volunteer.

    Friday, October 12, 2018 Report this