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Beach Sweep/River Sweep Nets 24 Tons of Debris

Dec 19, 2016 | News

The bags of trash and piles of debris dominate the front row in the end-of-the-pickup photographs from Beach Sweep/River Sweep sites, but it’s the proud faces in the background that make the annual event work.

During the 28th annual Beach Sweep/River Sweep, nearly 4,100 volunteers formed teams at 99 sites in South Carolina, from the coast to the mountains. They covered almost 1,000 miles and picked up nearly 24 tons of trash.

Members of Girl Scout Troop 609 are all smiles after cleaning debris from the Shem Creek marsh in Mt. Pleasant, S.C. Photo by Susan Ferris Hill, S.C. Sea Grant Consortium.

The volunteers also track which items are picked up. Cigarette butts (35,559) remain the most common object, followed by plastic bottle caps (9,577), food wrappers (7,490), and plastic beverage bottles (6,472).

It’s often dirty, sweaty work, yet the people posing behind the gathered trash invariably are smiling. And they keep coming back every year.

“For 26 years, the National Park Service at Fort Sumter National Monument has acted as site captains on Sullivan’s Island,” said Olivia Williams, a former interpretive ranger with the park service. “One of the most compelling things about this event is the loyalty of our volunteers. Some groups have been volunteering every year for nearly as long as we have been doing the Sweep.

“We are amazed every year by the results of Beach Sweep. We would be unable to pull off this kind of cleanup effort without the support and reputation of S.C. Sea Grant Consortium.”

The Consortium partners with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources to coordinate the event. Traditionally, it’s scheduled the third Saturday in September. The data gathered from each site was entered into Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Information and Data for Education and Solutions web tool.