Why Do People Leave Trash On the Beach?

Every year my parents help us rent a beach house in a nice neighborhood on the Jersey Shore. Last year I posted a picture collage of trash that people had left on the beach. This year the trash at the end of the day seemed worse than ever before. 
I understand the occasional straw left in the sand, tissue that blows away or sunglasses lost in the ocean and tossed ashore by the surf. 
broken bucket left in the sand

broken bucket left in the sand

Today I saw this bucket left by itself on the beach after everyone had left. I thought and thought about why someone would leave a broken bucket on the beach instead of carrying it 50 feet to the garbage cans. 
“Mommy, my bucket broooooke!”
“I’m sorry oookie poookie baby”
“I want a new one, Now!”
“Mommy will buy you a new one when we get home. Just leave that one there sweetie. “
View of trash cans from where I found the broken bucket

View of trash cans from where I found the broken bucket

“I want a bigger bucket next time!”

“OK sweetie pie”
Or maybe it went more like this:
“Oh honey, don’t pack up that bucket, it’s broken.”
“OK mom.”
What do you think?   Do you think someone was so frustrated they just left it there?  Or maybe they had too much to carry already?
Trash & recycling left on the beach

Trash & recycling left on the beach

Recently I was teaching campers in our town about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  It’s a patch of garbage, mostly small bits of plastic, that covers an area as wide as the United States and is changing the ecosystem in the area of the ocean it is in.   Currents throughout the world slowly move trash to this giant patch in the ocean.   This week while walking on the beach I couldn’t go 5 feet without finding another piece of trash washed up by the tide. Jon pulled out a plastic bag and straw that he encountered while swimming in the waves.  It’s so frustrating.

What can we do to get people to take their own trash home from the beach?

Happy Greening,

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  1. Maybe some little kid accidentally let go of the bucket when a wave hit him so that he could continue to stand up and catch his balance. Then the wave took the pail and the child never saw it again. But then later down the beach a group of teenagers stepped on it breaking it. It wasn’t theirs so why would they pick it up? Maybe the bucket was an accident but the other trash has no excuse. We recently were at Belmar and I noticed hardly any trash at all. It was very clean. Maybe that is because you have to pay to get it? Maybe they pay people to pick up trash on that particular beach or maybe people are more concerned because they pay to get it…Maybe you could organize a cleaning group to pick up trash once a week?

    • Thanks for the thoughts Stephanie. In regards to this beach, they use the sand cleaning machines every morning to collect the trash and it was a beach you had to pay to use, which is probably how they afford to use the beach cleaners and pay the lifeguards. I certainly didn’t mind paying $35 for the week of using the beach 🙂

  2. We recently vacationed at Pensacola and were faced with this problem. I think my husband and I fished 3-4 cans out of the water not to mention other trash we found over our 4 day visit. It was so upsetting, even my 4 year old was taken aback and couldn’t understand why people littered.

    I agree clean up groups are great but if you can’t get the community to care it’s like beating you head against a brick wall.

    • I think that it areas where its really the local community that uses the beach you should be able to get people to either pick up after themselves or do community clean-ups. We organize the cleanups for the local parks here.

      I think that at a beach that is primarily a vacation spot where most people are only there for a day, weekend or week, the locals are much less interested in cleaning up after the “tourists” and there is such a great variety in the people that vacation places, when I pick up trash on the beach some people look at me funny and other people do the same thing.

  3. Steven C Wann says

    I want to clean up a near-by beach. I cannot pick up itsy-bitsy pieces of trash with a “picker”: what I want is a fine net-in-a-stick to pick up little items like cigarette butts.
    Does anybody make or sell such a tool?

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