Beaches, Butts and Straws

litter on beaches

Last weekend brought beautiful weather to Massachusetts.  It was warm with just a hint of fall peeking through.   I love these days!  Best of all, I was able to spend Sunday afternoon with my daughter and her Girl Scout troop on a beautiful beach in Gloucester, MA called Wingaersheek.  I had never been here before.  It is so picturesque and the sand is as fine and soft as powder.  It even has the stereotypical New England light house in the distance!

Now, remember, I was there with girl scouts.  We weren’t there to just have fun.  We were there, along with about 50 other girl scouts, to clean up the beach.  Honestly, we all thought “Really, they picked this beach for us to clean up?  I don’t see anything.”


But we started looking.  And we found trash.  The 2 most found items:  cigarette butts and straws!  It was amazing how many we found. 

litter found on beach cigarette buttsI recently learned that cigarette butts take anywhere from 18 months to 10 years to break down.  The filter is actually a form of plastic called cellulose acetate.  It is very slow to break down and contains tar – a toxin. Yet another source for ground and water pollution. It is estimated that trillions of cigarette butts litter the world each year. Cigarettelitter.org estimates they are the most littered item worldwide!  During the Coastal Cleanup Day in 2000, 230,000 cigarette butts were found on California beaches.  TerraCycle is attempting to upcycle cigarette butts in Canada.  The cigarette butts will be turned into plastic pallets for industrial use.
After cleaning up the beach I can totally see how cigarette butts can be the most littered item.  They were everywhere.  They are so small I’m guessing smokers don’t think it’s such a big deal.  But boy does it add up!

Straws and the waste they generate have been a topic for many environmentalists.  Milo Cress started the Be Straw Free Campaignat age 9 to reduce the 500 million straws used each day.  Do you really need a straw?  Think about it.  At a restaurant, you could probably do without one.  Refusing a single straw may not seem like you are making a big dent in the 500 million, but you might just prompt a conversation with someone else and get them to refuse a straw next time.  Just like that old shampoo commercial, “And they’ll tell 2 friends, and so on and so on and so on….” 

Now there are times when I really like a straw.  Did you know there are reusable straws?  We have stainless steel straws, others are madeof glass and are available online.  Beth Terry, author of Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You CanToo, carries one in her purse to use when in restaurants.  By the way, I totally recommend reading Beth’s book.  Lots of great information and plenty of do-able actions.


If you live in Westford, the Highway Department in conjunction with the Litter League Green Team has cleanup kits you can borrow to clean up areas of Westford.

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