Fireworks litter lasts for months

Cheryl May can predict the future. She knows, without a doubt, where she will begin her day Monday and what she will be doing.

She’ll be at Ala Spit picking up spent fireworks and other “celebratory” debris from the beach. She and two or three friends will circle Whidbey Island, cleaning up public beaches.

While many beaches play host to fireworks displays, May said Ala Spit will be the most heavily erupted beach on the north end. On South Whidbey, Double Bluff will take the title.

“I’ll take away a truckload of trash — easily,” she said Wednesday afternoon. May was surveying Ala Spit for early signs of Independence Day explosions. She didn’t find any, but she knows what’s coming.

May searches for spent fireworks for months after the Fourth of July. And her hunts are always successful. She knows exactly where to locate Roman candles, firecrackers, bottle rockets and anything else that shoots color or explodes: Whidbey Island beaches.

“We’ll be finding lots of firework trash for at least three months,” May said.

May organizes groups of volunteers to clean public beaches on Whidbey Island.

She has been cleaning beaches for years, so she’s not very surprised at what she and volunteers find. However, one Fourth of July “treasure” intrigues her.

She often finds unopened cases of beer and unopened liquor bottles.

“I know why people leave fireworks but why do they leave their drinks?” she laughed.

That levity aside, litter May finds on the beach concerns her.

She doesn’t worry much over cardboard and paper.

“It’s unsightly, but it will fall apart, eventually,” she said.

But bits of plastic and foam packing last forever.

To birds and fish, foam and plastic look like tasty morsels. But that meal will be one of their last. May said foam can change a fish’s buoyancy, making it an easy target to predators. Birds can starve to death after eating foam or plastic that won’t pass through their system. Inside a bird, the trash takes up room. The bird simply can’t eat enough to stay alive.

Another peril comes from containers. Netting some packaged fireworks are sold in will not degrade.

Animals tangled in netting might not be able to find food, escape predators or move at all.

Janet Hall, WSU Island County Waste Wise coordinator, would like people to return the next day and remove their litter.

It would be easy, she said, for people to collect debris and place it above the high tide line, then pick it up the next day.

May, however, doesn’t expect that will happen.

She’s readying her beach shoes and making sure her truck is empty. Because May can predict the future, she knows just how busy she will be after the Fourth of July.

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