Blog Post Written by Michelle Booth, Tourism Specialist, Village of Surfside Beach
My husband, Rob, and I moved to Surfside in the winter of 2014. Our first summer in Surfside was 2015, and we started to notice all the food and trash people would bring in with them to the beach and how much they would leave behind! We had hoped this wasn’t the norm, but we joined Save Our Beach Association (SOBA) and became volunteers to help pick up trash. The winters in Surfside brought fewer people and thus, less trash.
Rob and I went to the beach on the Tuesday after Memorial Day in 2016 and could not believe the amount of trash left from the holiday celebrations, and the trash that had washed up. The beach was covered in litter as far as my eyes could see. We spent several hours picking up 10 contractor bags of trash and we barely went a half-mile.
There had to be something more we could do. SOBA hosted Adopt-A-Beach Cleanups and even passed out bags to visitors on holiday weekends. They also rolled bags for the beach permit monitors to pass out during the busiest times. I felt that we also needed to educate our visitors on the importance of litter prevention.
I talked to the Village of Surfside and asked if they would purchase trash bags for us to pass out to the summer beachgoers. They were skeptical about my idea, but I urged them to let me try it for one summer.
We would split up the 4 miles of Surfside Beach and pass out trash bags to beachgoers. Each “section” would be about a mile and we would do this on Saturdays and Sundays. We also determined from observation that 3pm would be a good transition time. This was the time when people were packing up, and the night beachgoers were coming in.
So, volunteers each took a couple of rolls of trash bags and either walked up and down or golf carted the beach talking to every visitor. We spoke to everyone, urging them to bag up their trash and either put it under the can or take it home. We pointed out that loose trash in cans usually blew out by morning. We started noticing that the number one thing people forgot to bring was a trash bag, and they were so grateful! We also started noticing that the beach was left so much cleaner and that bags would be tied and stacked under the cans instead of trash just scattered around. We discovered that most people want to help and want to leave the beach clean. We also educated the kids about how litter affects our coastline and marine life.
The program has been so successful that we have been doing it every summer since 2016 and have even added a Facebook page for volunteers to sign up for a shift. This page has allowed us to track the number of bags passed out, and the number of trash bags picked up by volunteers. We also now pass out bags on non-summer holidays and whenever it is needed.
Last summer (May-September) during the pandemic was the busiest I have ever seen Surfside. We passed out over 17,000 trash bags and kept all that trash out of the Gulf. We had 637 bags of trash picked up by volunteers during that same time, which equates to about 3 bags of trash a day over 4 miles.
Learn more about Keep Surfside Beach Beautiful and their great programs on their Facebook page.