A friend of mine asked what I do with all the beach trash I collect. The answer is simple: recycle, reuse and donate as much as possible. What is not simple, it the sorting and the time it takes, what and where to donate, where to store it and figuring how to reuse. Over the last couple of years, I have found resources to recycle the beach trash, found people to take hundreds of pounds for art projects and learned to reuse as much as possible. There are many things, that I reluctantly put in the trash, that can be reused: The 50+ a day Capri drink bags, Red Cups and cigarette butts can all be sent to Terracycle. The 4 to 10 plastic food containers- a day can be cleaned up and recycled. I could probably find a source for the 2-10 a day broken styrofoam boogie boards that I pick up. The 20-60 Balloons and Balloons parts, could most likely be recycled. The unsaleable Clothing- Textiles gets donated to the Goodwill. All in all, out of the 1000+ pounds of trash that I pick up every year on the beach, 95% can be reused or recycled somehow. That is a sad story.
Where this trash goes.. into our landfills. We in San Diego have about 7 more years left in our primary landfill, Miramar, which is why zero waste is such a strong issue. One of our Landfills just filed for bankruptcy and of course no-one wants a landfill in their back yard. Knowing that, I look to do my part to get to zero waste. On a personal level, I am pretty much there. The next objective is getting to zero waste via the beach trash. I have undertaken a course of action to show people how they can reuse ordinary stuff that they would throw away in a heartbeat. Which is why my house looks like a Trashy Beach Shack.
A Trashy Beach Shack that my neighbors abhor, but it is worth it, when people come by and thank me for picking up the beach. I thought I would share some of the ways you can reuse found objects. This bike was found abandoned and it was trashed and non-donatable. Right now and if ever the plants grow, it serves as a fence and a trellis. The box was going to be thrown away and it is now growing compost squash.
Instead of buying a new flag for the 4th of July, I made one from bottle caps taken off the beach. You can see in the background some of the shoes, that were also taken off the beach and now are part of the cactus garden.
Hundreds of bottle caps are on the beach. The most bottle caps I ever picked up in one day- 604. That was in a 1/2 mile of beach. Plastic bottle caps are deadly to marine animals, who mistake them for food. Every one of those bottle caps came from plastic bottles. How prevalent are plastic bottle caps? A dead albatross that was found in Hawaii had a stomach full of 119 bottle caps.
Before I started donating them, I made some art. They now adorn the ugly fence at the side of my house.
90% of what I pick up is plastic. Plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic food wrappers, plastic packaging, plastic from umbrellas, beach chairs.. you get the picture.
- In August of 2000, a dead Brydes whale in Australia had six square meters of plastic trash, including bags, food packing. 2010 a dead grey whale was found in Puget Sound that had eaten around 20 plastic bags, (Average 20/day) surgical gloves (average 2/week), a pair of sweat pants, a golf ball (about 20/year) duct tape, towels, and more.
- In 2008 A sperm whales was found in Point Reyes, CA with 450 pounds of fishing net, rope and plastic bags.
- In 2011, a baby whale was found in Puerto Rico with 10 pounds of of plastic in her. In 2014 multiple plastics bags and fishing line was found in a beach whale in Florida.
- In 2012 A whale was found off Mykonos, Greece with over 100 plastic bags in it’s stomach. ‘our ‘civilization’ was in the stomach of this whale. Tens of big compacted plastic bags used for garbage or construction materials, all kinds of plastic cover for anything we can buy in a supermarket, plastic ropes, pieces of nets, even a plastic bag with full address and telephone number of a souvlaki restaurant in the town of Thessaloniki. Unfortunately, the whale could not call to complain about the damage caused by their product.” (Source)
- In 2013 A beached whale in Spain had 37 pounds of garbage in it’s stomach, including 36 yards of canvas.
I could go on an on… but this is why I pick up beach trash.
Next on the list. This pallet was rescued off the beach. Works perfectly in this space. During the summer, pallets bonfires are against the law, but like drinking, smoking and glass, it is ignored. There are thousands of ways to reuse pallets. Almost 2 Billion Wooden Pallets are used in the US. Most of these pallets are used only once and then land up in our landfills. What a way to kill some badly needed forests.
A friend and I salvaged from the alley a large bookcase-desk. From that salvage, I remade 3 rolling storage/seats/tables. The reusable bottles also salvaged off the beach, (more plastic) along with the flashlight. The handles are from boat-fishing lines. I pick up about 30 reusable bottles a year. If they are in decent condition, they get donated.
Living in a small and old house with no storage or garage, we cut and pasted an outdoor storage- work space area. The desk (not shown) holds gardening supplies and other miscellaneous outdoor equipment.
The bookcase went into the back, waiting to be made into a garden. Right now it is holding the recyclable items from the beach. The back is a huge project.. that I can’t even get into. After all is said and done, it should be a nice edible and organic garden.
Plastic crates, large plastic tubs are fairly common as people lug their stuff to fire pits and just leave them behind. This was a “Plastic Story’ that I did, but my nieces and nephews found it and took all the toy whales and sharks out. A little messy, but at one time it did make a statement. The netting is how cheap beach toys ($4.99) come encased in. I pick up 2-20 of these mesh nettings a day. Can you imagine how many orcas this kill?
In the summer, broken umbrellas, beach chairs and BBQ’s are all over the beach. You can reuse all. Umbrella holders (carriers) work to hold together long and rolled items. This one is holding screens and dowels. You can also reuse to hold wrapping paper. BBQ’s can be reused into many things including planters. I have one as a planter.
Taking apart an umbrella takes a few minutes. These umbrellas are covering outside chairs. They are not waterproof, but do keep somewhat clean. Ways to Reuse Umbrellas. Open up a large umbrella and it makes a perfect table cloth.
Yoga mats are not common, and this one is really dirty. I reused as a floor mat and have one in the kitchen. Ways to Reuse Yoga Mats.
Shopping carts are everywhere and cost each of us money as the loss goes into our food bills. I contacted someone to pick them up (I had 4) and they never did, so I made a rolling garden. See More Ways to reuse Shopping Carts The bottom is tennis balls picked up on the beach (about 1/day) and the lining is old towels. It doesn’t look pretty, but it works.
If you can believe it, This is a Shop Vac taken off the beach. I took it apart, drilled holes and it is now a movable garden. These are extremely sturdy and would make great trash cans and storage. They can be easily adorned with a little paint.
I know a store-bought BBQ cover looks a lot better than this. Mine wore out, but found a tarp on the beach and the bungie cords and works just great on the BBQ. I don’t find that many tarps, maybe 5 in the last 1 and 1/2 years. I have donated them. Most of the bungie cords will wash up on our next big storm.
The hardest thing to recycle is the shoes and cheap sunglasses. Before I found out the Goodwill will take all shoes including unpaired, I started my shoe garden on the back fence, little did I know, I would have this many shoes! I average a hat a day on the beach. Some are in decent condition, those can be donated. Most are pretty grotty. I started sticking the hats on the top to dry them out and I am now using them for ‘starter plants’
Normally, all dolls get donated, but these Barbies are unsaleable. They are now fillers in the shoe garden. Fins- snorkels, masks, goggles are very common during the summer. I can pick up 10 pairs of cheap goggles during the day. The problem is the sand starches the lenses, which makes them unusable.
Most of the fins are unpaired and broken. I am experimenting with growing cactus in them.
My challenges now are how to reuse cheap sunglasses (about 300/year) leashes from boogie and surfboards (10/day) electrical equipment, glow sticks, (6 /day) chapsticks and lip balms ( 5/day), lighters (2/day) and Hats (1/day). Fortunately the 100+ eyeglasses can be donated to Lions Club.
A sad fact- It is estimated that over one million birds and 100,000 marine mammals die each year from plastic debris. A study of 38 green turtles found that 61 percent had ingested some form of marine debris including plastic bags, cloth, and rope or string (Bugoni et al., 2001). It is said that 40% of our oceans are awash with plastic.
With a little more finesse and time, most of the recycling- reusing efforts can be made to look better, which would make my neighbors happier. But then again, my Trash Shack provides plenty of entertainment. I encourage each person to do their part to pick up litter and trash, reuse, recycle as much a possible and quit the plastic addiction.