Getting rid of doggone beach litter

bmorem@thetribunenews.comAugust 30, 2012 

One of my simple joys in life is walking our pug, Bailey, at a beach down the street from our Baywood home. It’s a weekend and daily after-work ritual — at least during the daylight-savings season — and one that gives our 14-year-old hairy loaf of a dog a reason to actually caper, strut and sniff the world of seaweed and sand through her brachycephalic snout.

But her daily dose of happiness is only one factor of several that make these walks a simple joy. The 40 minutes or so we spend walking next to the bay’s generally calm waters is time off the grid, of being unplugged and giving in to the undemanding delight of daydreaming.

And yet there’s something — probably my Norwegian-clean genetics — that makes even an idyll an opportunity to do something during our strolls. So I glean the beach for trash.

This isn’t something particularly noble. In fact, I was once asked whether I wasn’t “enabling” others to be litterbugs by picking up after them. Well, hmmm, no.

If truth be known, there’s something deeply satisfying about being a litter picker, a state of mind that those who pick up trash next to roadways undoubtedly share.

No, it’s more along the lines of a quest. I simply like to see whether I can bag the odd piece of plastic, cigarette butt or Styrofoam piece of debris that’s been either thoughtlessly discarded or blown into the bay off of a moored boat or a restaurant patio on Morro Bay’s Embarcadero.

Toward that end, the beach has probably coughed up a couple of thousand cigarette butts over the past few years, with some of those obviously having been tossed recently and others having probably been bobbing in the bay for months if not years.

On this note, Terry Martin, in an article published in About.com, wrote: “The core of most cigarette filters — the part that looks like white cotton — is actually a form of plastic called cellulose acetate. By itself, cellulose acetate is very slow to degrade in our environment. Depending on the conditions of the area the cigarette butt is discarded, it can take 18 months to 10 years for a cigarette filter to decompose.”

So with a pup poop bag in one hand and small plastic bag for trash in the other, Bailey and I pick through and probe this particular beach’s flotsam and jetsam, occasionally finding something of value, such as a wooden scabbard for a fish knife. Mostly, though, it’s mundane: unbraiding a piece of fishing line from a strand of seaweed, the odd beer can, a red plastic straw or a saltine cracker wrapper.

Now, if strolling and picking litter for a cleaner beach sounds like something you might like to try, keep Saturday, Sept. 15, in mind; that’s the date for this year’s Coastal Cleanup Day, from 9 a.m. to noon. Want to volunteer for a beach near you? Go to www.ecoslo.org/coastal   -cleanup-day and sign up. Who knows? You may find Bailey and me poking and probing our beach’s jetsam and flotsam with our respective pug noses.

Bill Morem can be reached at bmorem@the tribunenews.com or at 781-7852.

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