In honor of Earth Day, April 22, and the 25th anniversary of Clean Ocean Action’s Beach Sweeps, where over 70,000 volunteers have picked up nearly 4 million pieces of trash on the NJ beaches, I conducted a “beach sweep” of my own on the streets of Red Bank. In only 4 blocks I collected 96 pounds of trash! Yes, I said beach sweep because a fact that most people do not realize is that via the storm drain system, all the litter on the streets of any town will end up in the nearest waterway. Along the nearly 10 miles of Red Bank riverfront there are over 15 different outfalls, large pipes where the storm drains empty directly into the Navesink and Swimming Rivers, which flow into the bay and ocean and eventually onto the ocean beaches. This type of litter, which is 80% of all litter on the beaches, is called non-point source pollution or “pointless” people pollution. It is largely disposable, single use products, and 80% of it is plastic. Clean Ocean Action has identified the “Dirty Dozen”, the 12 most commonly found pieces of garbage found on the beaches. The top two villains for many years have been cigarette filters and plastic bottle caps. Cigarette filters contain hundreds of chemicals, many of which are toxic. The chemicals in one cigarette filter in a liter of ocean water are so poisonous that they kill 50% of the marine life in that water. Because the filters are made of plastic fibers they easily float through the storm drain system and end up on the beaches. Also in the Dirty Dozen are plastic straws and stirrers, plastic food wrappers, plastic drink bottles, plastic foam cups and pieces, plastic bottle rings, plastic shopping bags and plastic cigar tips. Get the trend? The worst problem with plastic is that it NEVER decomposes. After hundreds of years plastic will photo degrade into microscopic pieces that resemble plankton, the beginning of the complex food web. Ninety seven percent of albatross chicks, a bird that spends nearly its entire life at sea, have plastic in their stomachs which leads to death from starvation, toxicity and choking. Large patches of floating plastic garbage, some the size of the state of Texas, are in the middle of every ocean, caught in the gyre of currents. A dead Minke whale found on the Scottish coast had 1760 lbs. of plastic bags in its stomach. I could go on with thousands of examples of how litter on the streets is harming human and marine life but the point of my city “beach sweep” is not to dwell on the negative but to educate the residents of Red Bank and suggest several ways in which they can become part of the solution to pointless pollution.
On Earth Day Clean Ocean Action’s “Let’s Talk Trash” educational program will be given to the entire Red Bank Middle School. During this presentation the students will learn ways to reduce, reuse and recycle, the three tenets of environmental stewardship. Students will be asked to sign a pledge listing 15 ways they can personally help reduce litter in Red Bank. The RBR high school students from COA’s Student Ocean Advocacy program will be partnering with the Red Bank Environment Commission’s Green Team to help with anti-litter projects such as identifying where trash and recycling receptacles are needed throughout the town. They will also be teaming up with the Middle School to help them form their own Environment Club. This summer the Red Bank schools will partner with environment education organizations NJ Marine Sciences Consortium and Navesink Maritime Heritage Assoc. All Red Bank schools are part of the Aveda plastic cap recycling program.
There are many ways the community can become part of the solution to pollution. By joining Red Bank’s Green Team they can learn ways to recycle just about everything and help to plan community cleanup events in their neighborhoods.
The Red Bank Business Association can host a Clean Ocean Action anti-litter presentation for their members to learn ways they can actually increase sales by becoming a “Green Business” and keep both the front and rear of their stores litter free.
The town of Red Bank is already working with two state environment programs. NJ Clean Communities is a statewide litter-abatement program that raises funds by assessing a “tax” on all products that generate litter. Last year Red Bank’s share of these funds was over $18,000. This money can be used to support the Green Team’s community programs such as volunteer cleanup of public lands and education of children and adults. This money can also be used to help with the enforcement of anti-litter laws. Recycling receptacles need to be placed near every business that sells products that generate litter such as convenience stores and delis. While it is great that all our restaurants and bars are smoke free inside, the streets in front of some businesses are littered with cigarette filters. There needs to be a town ordinance for placement of smoking receptacles in front of every business where the customers or employees will be smoking. Sustainable Jersey is a state program designed to help municipalities to become environmentally sustainable. It is based on a point system, requiring 150 points to reach the first or bronze level. We get 10 points just for the education program that will be presented at the middle school on Earth Day and another 10 points for an anti- litter presentation at the town council meeting on April 26th. Safe routes to school, recycling program, and green building training are some of the many ways to earn points.
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Improving the water quality of the rivers that gave our town its name, Red Bank, would greatly contribute to our status as a sustainable community. Businesses, schools and neighborhoods together can help Red Bank become Green Bank.
Red Bank, NJ
Kathleen Gasienica is an American Littoral Society Trustee