“Leave footprints – not stuff” is the theme of this year’s Earth Day beach cleanup day. The Okaloosa County Environmental Council and sponsor organization Okaloosa County Tourist Development Department invite volunteers of all ages to participate.
“The number one thing that we pick up is cigarette butts,” said Nancy Hussong, research and development manager for the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Department. She explained that this year, the OCEC has teamed up with Terracycle to incorporate a new recycling program into the Earth Day efforts.
“This is the first time ever that we’ve found a program that recycles cigarettes,” Hussong said. “It’s the number one worldwide littering problem with 4.5 trillion discarded across the world throughout the year, and it takes five to 12 years for them to disintegrate.”
Hussong told The Log that through the Terracycle program, points for the amount of cigarettes collected can be redeemed towards a cash donation to a charity or school of their choosing.
Organized beach clean-ups are scheduled twice a year, in the spring and fall, and Okaloosa County Tourist Development Department regularly maintains the beaches with beach combing machines. Coastal Management Coordinator, Jim Trifilio told The Log that although the machines pick up most of the beach litter, hand cleaning helps keep hard to reach areas around the dunes and bridges clean.
“We focus on the high traffic areas, not every inch of the beach,” he said. “The area where the people are doing it by hand can get better results, especially with the smaller things.”
Volunteers for the OCEC beach clean ups have reached more than 30,000 since the program’s inception in 1988, and a calculated 114,000 pounds of trash has been removed from the Emerald Coast’s shores.
“Sometimes its several hundred people,” said Hussong of the volunteer numbers. “The most we’ve ever had was 1,200, and that was after the fall of ‘97 just after Opal.”
On Saturday’s clean up day the OCEC will provide event t-shirts, bottled waters and latex gloves to volunteers, and Hussong urges participants to wear close-toed shoes, sunscreen and a hat to protect from the sun. Groups who desire to conduct a beach clean-up but are unable to participate on April 12, can schedule another date in April and still receive shirts and cleaning materials from OCEC while supplies last.
“Please help us preserve our world-class, Emerald Coast beaches,” Hussong said. “It’s fun, believe it or not, especially for kids, and the sunshine is free.”
Earth Day Beach Cleanup is April 12 from 8-10 a.m.
Volunteers can sign in at Beasley Park on Okaloosa Island, the Beach Park west of Island Princess on Okaloosa Island, and Henderson Beach State Park in Destin. Notify the ranger at the gate for meeting pavilion information and free entry to Henderson Beach State Park.