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Litter bugs behave better on Fourth

Fourth of July visitors to Ala Spit were considerably more litter-conscious than last year, with the annual cleanup on Wednesday morning yielding a comparatively minimal amount of garbage.

“It wasn’t nearly as bad as it has been in the past,” said Cheryl May, volunteer coordinator for the WSU Extension Office Community Beach Litter Program. “I only got three large contractor garbage bags full.”

May scoured the beach, finding the bulk of the trash in front of the parking area and further south in a more hidden section of the beach. The collected refuse was primarily in the form of beer cans and fireworks, the fun-seekers apparently choosing to imbibe while discharging their purchases.

“Fireworks and beer cans everywhere,” said May, now in her seventh year of cleaning Ala Spit and other beaches.

Although a sign specifically prohibiting the use of fireworks at the beach has been posted each year, Tuesday’s celebration was markedly different, as people appear to have taken heed of the restrictive notice.

“Maybe somebody actually read the sign this year and decided not to do it,” May said.

The cleanup project is financed by a Department of Ecology grant composed of minimal amounts of tax dollars gleaned from the sale of luxury items. Each county in the state is given a piece of the funding.

“Every other county uses it to pick up their roads, but we already have volunteers who pick up roads in the Adopt-A-Road Program, and we use volunteers to clean up the beaches with that fund,” May said. “The fund pays for the bags and the county chips in for the tipping fee at the solid waste site.”

In just two years of cleaning up the beaches on Whidbey and Camano islands, volunteers have pledged 7,877 hours while picking up trash on 1,554 total miles of beach. The effort has resulted in 87,709 pounds of plastic litter being removed, the majority from Whidbey.

“We recycled 1,066 pounds,” May added. “That doesn’t seem like a lot, but after trash has been on the beach for a long time, it’s not recyclable.”

The volunteer coordinator also runs the Beach Adoption Program, which further helps with upkeep.

“Many beaches on the island are adopted,” she said. “That means people that adopted the beaches clean the beach four times a year. We give them all the supplies to do that and then I come and pick up the litter when it’s bagged.”

While the Beach Adoption Program is a tremendous boon to cleanup efforts, the alloted time is only a drop in the bucket. May and a cadre of volunteers generally visit Ala Spit twice a month.

“Four times a year isn’t anywhere near enough,” she said.

The day following the Fourth of July is anomalous in terms of litter collection, May added. Most of the trash was left there the previous day and evening, while throughout the year the solid waste dump brims with trash that has washed ashore.

“Today is unusual,” she said Wednesday. “The fifth of July is always the different day.”

With herself and three volunteers, May carted off 800 pounds. of fireworks at Double Bluff near Freeland later in the day. Despite the staggering amount, which the volunteer coordinator described as “exclusively fireworks,” the foursome could only cover a section of the beach.

“The amount of fireworks we collected was astounding,” she said.

May can be reached by phone at 678-4100 or by e-mail at cmay@whidbey.net.

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