Trash no Match for Grass Roots Garbage Gang
November 9, 2010
By Dana Drugmand, OurEarth.org Intern
By Dana Drugmand, OurEarth.org Intern
Environmental stewardship often begins at the grassroots level, when compassionate citizens band together to make something happen. On the Long Beach peninsula in the state of Washington, just such a grassroots group of volunteers has been coming together since 2001 to help make this 28-mile stretch of beach cleaner and greener. The group calls itself the Grass Roots Garbage Gang and it consists of locals and visitors, neighbors, friends, families, high school groups, businesses, and people of all ages from 3 to 93 years old, all volunteering their time and energy to remove hundreds of pounds of trash from the beaches.
One of the many Adopt-A-Beach groups.Shelly Pollock, a resident of Ocean Park, WA, started the Grass Roots Garbage Gang in 2001 after making a New Year’s resolution to do something about all the trash on the beach. She began carrying a trash bag with her everyday when she took her dog for walks on the beach, one day realizing the trash was too much and too big for her to handle by herself. Her solution? She drove her truck down to take all the bags she had collected and noticed another woman, Ellen Anderson, laboriously dragging bags filled with trash. Pollock offered her a hand and learned that she had been cleaning the beach on weekends and taking the garbage to Seattle to dump. “She gave me her name and number and said if I ever wanted to start something to call her,” Pollock explained.
After putting pictures of couches, shower stalls, and other items found at the beach dumping sites in the local newspaper, volunteers responded to her ads and the Grass Roots Garbage Gang was born. They held their first clean up in the rain, with Pollock and twelve volunteers collecting 850 pounds of trash over 3 miles of beach. Since then the effort has swelled to hundreds of volunteers who pitch in, collecting to-date over 100 tons of trash. According to Pollock, the most recent clean-up on July 5th of this year had a record 750 volunteers.
The Grass Roots Garbage Gang cleans up the beach three times a year – in January, April, and in July, always on the day after the Fourth, when the beach is littered with celebratory debris. “We generally have a potluck the night before, where we prepare for the next day's cleanup and hand out supplies to each of the seven Beach Approach Coordinators who sign volunteers in and give them materials. At the potluck, we have a speaker talk on a subject that beach cleanup volunteers would generally like to hear about,” said Pollock.
A sampling of the types of plastic collected at each cleanup. Top: Fireworks remnants. Bottom: Assorted plastics.The types of trash they find includes almost anything you can think of, from the typical plastic bags and containers, to light bulbs, fireworks, tires, refrigerators and furniture. Pollock says she is not surprised anymore by some of the pieces of junk the group finds. “It is a mess out there – plastic, plastic, plastic. Every piece of plastic made will be here the rest of our lives – plastic does not go away – EVER,” she emphasizes. According to the 2008 EPA Municipal Solid Waste Report, plastic waste generated in the U.S. totaled 30 million tons. Furthermore, according to figures from the Clean Air Council, Americans throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour and produce enough plastic film to shrink-wrap the state of Texas. Pollock hopes in the future the Gang will help eliminate plastics used in fireworks and increase awareness about plastic never going away. She would also like to see garbage disposals at every major beach entrance and see more people picking up after themselves.
For people who may want to start a grassroots project in their own community, Pollock advises that they start small, make sure to include everyone, and be open to all ideas. “Never under-utilize a volunteer’s time; honor their time tremendously, and be very grateful to them. Make sure it is entirely a positive event for everyone involved. Be sure to include everyone – never exclude. When people have ideas, ask them to run with it. Don't take everything on, create a list of good ideas and add where you can.”
Pollock’s grassroots initiative has succeeded in beautifying the local environment and building community spirit. According to Pollock, there is tremendous community support for the Grass Roots Garbage Gang. “They come and clean, they offer food for the soup feed, they help pay for dumpsters, they hand out bags – it’s TRULY a community event here,” she said, adding, “I live in an amazing community that can accomplish anything it sets it mind to.”
A Washington Beach prior to the Garbage Gang Sweep.
Some of the many trash bags filled by the Gang. To date, the group’s volunteers have cleared over 100 tons of trash from the beaches.