Please enjoy this guest post by our friend Alexandra Ringe:
I spent this past week hunting plastic on the beach of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida. The Atlantic Ocean has its own version of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and I redirected as much plastic detritus as I could from the shore to, well, the landfill.
I couldn’t stand the thought of walking by a plastic bag that would later drift out to the undulating mass of petroleum product sitting in the Sargasso Sea, maybe choking a bird along the way.
I could let you think that this is a new obsession of mine, this attention to the beach’s accumulation of straws, candy wrappers, kegger cups, and everything else we make out of plastic. But that would be wrong. I grew up in Ventnor, New Jersey, about 100 ft. from the boardwalk. Whenever we went to the beach, my mother picked up other people’s litter in addition to our own trash. “Leave it better than when you found it” — that was her response to our neighbors’ quizzical looks.
Although she talked to me and my siblings about the impact of human garbage on marine life, my mom was driven only in part by a concern for the environment. She applied the “Leave it better” principle at the movie theater and the rest-stop picnic table, too — she felt responsible for the experience of the next person to come along. Her approach expands on the hiker’s “pack it in, pack it out” credo — if you bring something into the woods, you are honor-bound to take it out again — in a way that works especially well for the beach.
A good deal of the trash I encounter doesn’t belong to negligent beachgoers. It blows in from the streets, floats in from boats and ships, or is too small and light to be caught by the tractor-like beach-cleaning machines that skim litter from the sand. Thanks to my mom, I have always seen this vagabond trash as ours, something I need to help pick up. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It feels too good to keep that chunk of crumbling styrofoam out of the sea.