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March 6, 2008

Queens Chronicle

Bottles Top Litter List Of Dirty Queens Shores
by Lee Landor, Assistant Editor

  (Nicholas Biondo) One volunteer finds a used candle during a local beach cleanup.  
               Most people don’t look forward to walking barefoot along a Queens beach because they know that hidden in the warm sand are various discarded items, like straws and stirrers that poke their soles or shards of glass that cut their toes.
   They probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that during the 2007 New York Beach Cleanup, 1,018 volunteers collected 21,000 pounds of debris from 24 Queens beaches.

   As part of the annual International Coastal Cleanup, people set out to their local beaches to pick up and sort through trash, documenting along the way each item they found.
   “It’s mainly a consciousness raising effort,” said Barbara Toborg of Broad Channel, a member of the American Littoral Society’s Northeast Chapter. “If you just stuff garbage in a bag, you’re not really paying too much attention, but categorizing specific items leaves an impression, especially on kids, who are great at that kind of thing.”
   More than 500 children joined the cleanup volunteers last year. Often kids come with their families, schools, scout groups and other organizations to participate in community service. Rockaway surfers also chipped in, videotaping the effort and later putting it on the Web, according to Toborg.
   The Queens volunteers noted their most unusual findings, which included a fire hydrant cover, tires, sewer pipes, car axle and bowling pins. The more common findings, although less exciting to document, reminded volunteers how important it is to respect the environment, Toborg said. One group found dead fish and crabs entangled in plastic bags — something Toborg often sees during local beach cleanups.
   “A lot of people you see just throw things down on the street without any regard. They don’t even realize what they’re doing,” she said. But this changes if they see the consequences of their actions, like a bird trapped in a six-pack ring holder, or a sea mammal entwined with a fishing line.
   Making up the majority of debris in Queens’ beaches were household items: volunteers collected nearly 4,000 paper or plastic bags, more than 4,700 food wrappers and containers, and about 5,500 caps and lids. Topping the list at 8,677 were beverage cans and bottles, plastic and glass.
   Across the entire state, volunteers collected 56,756 beverage containers, two-thirds of which are not included in the state’s bottle deposit law. To reduce the number of discarded bottles and cans, Toborg and the Northeast Chapter are advocating for legislation that would expand the five-cent deposit to containers that hold non-carbonated beverages.
   The “Bigger Better Bottle Bill” has been stalled in the state Senate, Toborg said, but the annual beach cleanup is helping to spread awareness and garner support for the legislation. Earlier this week, the Northeast Chapter was joined by local surfers and other supporters in Albany, where they rallied for the bill.
   In addition to trash generated by recreational activities, a significant portion of debris accumulates after storms, and winds and waves carry garbage from landfills, barges or ships onto the shore. Last year, the beaches held almost 400 tarps and various building materials, fishing equipment and car parts.
   Smoking-related activities also contribute to a beach’s messy appearance. More than 3,000 cigarettes or cigarette filters were sprinkled across shores around the borough last year. Discarded tobacco packaging and wrappers totaled 854.
   Since Queens has larger volunteer turnout every year, it is difficult to assess the condition of the beaches, Toborg said, noting that more people will collect more garbage. She hopes that the number of volunteers continues to grow as the city becomes more environmentally conscious.
   The 2008 New York Beach Cleanup will take place on Sept. 20. For more information, contact program coordinator Barbara Cohen at (718) 471-2166 or through e-mail at alsbeach@aol.com.


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