Sharing the Responsibility of Our Right to Clean Water

On the 4th of July we celebrate being American and all the rights we have as citizens of this nation. We celebrate our right to freely express our thoughts, to hang out together, to enjoy public natural resources and parks, and to have clean water.

Over the past few years 4th of July festivities have resulted in the trashing of our beaches and waterways. Be it at the beach or the harbor, its a recurring problem for Charleston.

We spoke to local surfer Terry Manier to learn more about the most recent incident of litter at Folly Beach.

Terry and his family had rented a beach house on 9th Street for their annual family reunion. They found the beach so chaotic on the 4th that they didn’t feel comfortable staying there with their children. They left to see a movie instead.

When Terry returned to the Beach around 6 pm, he found about three quarters of beach-goers had gone. But all of their belongings and trash had been left behind.

“It was so bizarre–like the Rapture happened,” Terry told us. “People left everything: sandals, games, umbrellas, tarps, coolers–everything was floating around in the water.”

“Trash bags were heaped on the dunes. Others had washed into the water with the rising tide, rolling in the waves like tumble weeds. And cigarette butts were everywhere.”

“Instead of foam on the tideline it was cigarette butts,” Terry described.

He and a handful of others collected 128 bags of trash from the 10th Street area. They worked against the clock to keep trash from being washed into the ocean as the tide made its way toward the dunes.

A big thanks goes out to Terry and other beach-goers for preventing the garbage from entering our water. But Terry emphatically tells us, “I don’t want people to go to the beach and expect other people to pick up after them.”

Local Trash Collection Policies

Beach communities take extra precautions for busy holiday weekends. We contacted officials at our local beaches to see what they did.

Lisa Darrow, Assistant to the Administrator for the town of Sullivan’s Island, told us that with a lot of preventative action and a little bit of luck, Sullivan’s Island beach-goers were able to have fun without any resulting trash problems. Darrow explain that after an incident a few years back Sullivan’s Island has established vigilant actions to help people have fun, clean beach experiences. They put out extra trash cans over the summer, and add even more during holidays such as the 4th of July. They also have extra trash collection cycles to make sure the trash cans don’t overflow. Measures like requiring parties of more than 20 people to be registered helps cut down on the amount of litter and trash in any one spot.

Emily Dziuban, Assistant to the Administrator at Isle of Palms, told us, “the City’s Public Works department is on the ‘front lines’ of planning for and collecting debris related to the holiday, but many volunteers make a big contribution.” IOP has yellow trash barrels on beach access paths that are emptied into six yard dumpsters for collection. This year the Island increased the number of barrels by 50%, and emptied the barrels into the dumpsters more frequently on July 4th and 5th. IOP is unique in that its Public Works staff also cleans the beach itself on July 4th and 5th. Interestingly, the most common type of litter was chairs, tents, and umbrellas.

City of Folly Beach Mayor Tim Goodwim told us Folly also increases the number of trash cans and trash pick-up cycles during the summer. The trash cans stand at the entrance to each public access point. “We can’t place them directly on the beach because the erosion inhibits pick-up,” Goodwin explained. The Folly Beach community also plays an important part. Volunteer groups like Charleston Surfrider regularly hold organized beach sweeps of Folly Beach.

Clean Water is a Shared Right and a Shared Responsibility

It’s good that cities and concerned citizens stand up for our right to clean water and pick up litter and garbage when others make a mess.

But each of us needs to take responsibility for our own actions. And make it clear to visitors and locals alike that it’s unacceptable to trash our beaches and local waterways.

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