At our Annual Bainbridge Island Beach Cleanup this year, a curious event unfolded at Hawley Cove Park. Troops of scouts and their leaders, and staff from Sustainable Bainbridge and Zero Waste Washington, collected all the trash they could find on the beach. They then meticulously separated the trash into over 50 different categories, then carefully weighed and enumerated every piece. It took a solid 3 hours under a heavy sky threatening rain, but the group accomplished what it set out to do- clean the beach AND contribute to a national effort to improve our understanding of marine litter and impacts in our environment!

Zero Waste Washington has been working with the EPA and partner organizations to develop a standardized litter assessment protocol known as the Escaped Trash Assessment Protocol (ETAP). In order to evaluate this protocol and create better federal regulations for litter, we were at Hawley Cove, weighing and photographing litter picked up at this park.  Ours was one of dozens of sites that Zero Waste Washington has evaluated as part of the ETAP effort.

Why? Doing this work enables the partners to build a database that demonstrates harm to water quality. By doing assessments across the state, they can compare apples-to-apples data. For example, they can look at the question of how many cigarette butts are found per square foot in a specific beach area compared to a local park.

This one-morning effort produced quite an impressive haul, especially for a beach that many of our volunteers described as “looking pretty clean” when they started- we collected over 1300 items weighing more than 43 kg (see chart at right)!

Gathering these data will help us create a regional report so that we can make the case that plastic litter should be considered a pollutant under the federal Clean Water Act. Making trash officially a pollutant will make it easier to bring funds and resources to the massive problem of trash in our coastal environments.

We are so grateful to the parents and members of troops 1804 and 1496 for their assistance with this project!