Monthlong beach cleanup competition nets 1,670 pounds of garbage

One thousand, six hundred and seventy pounds. 

That’s the grand total amount of trash collected from local beaches last month as part of the North Fork Beach Cleanup competition.

The contest, organized by Estefany Molina of Greenport, began Sept. 1 and saw eight teams compete to rid local beaches of the most trash. A ninth, non-competing team also participated.

“Everyone should be proud of themselves,” Ms. Molina said in an interview Thursday. “This hammers home the point that we are the problem.”

Items collected throughout the month long cleanup effort included a plethora of face masks as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, a water trampoline, tires, boat cushions and foam, shingles, lost shoes and even a frying pan.

Smaller objects like bottles, caps and cans and syringes were also picked up.

Erin Johnson and Lucy Muellner, who own Fork & Anchor in East Marion, organized a team with Ms. Johnson’s husband, Mike, employee Janet Limongelli and her wife, Camille. Their team of five took first place in the competition with a total weigh-in of 356.4 pounds of trash combed from sound beaches in East Marion and Orient.

Team Fork and Anchor, first-place winners of The North Fork Beach Clean Up. (Credit: Estefany Molina)

The first place winners will receive a two-hour sunset sail courtesy of Layla Sailing. Second and third-prizes included a make-your-own gin experience from Matchbook Distilling and coffee from North Fork Roasting Company.

Ms. Johnson said Thursday that she was motivated to participate to set an example for her two young daughters who frequently play along the beach.

Most surprising about the experience for Ms. Johnson was how much trash was actually discovered on the beach that they may have otherwise not noticed. Ms. Johnson said that bottle caps were the most “pervasive” item they collected and that she was surprised by how little time it took to complete the task during a beach walk. “You can easily fill a bag in 15 or 20 minutes,” she said.

Ms. Molina also expected to find weathered items that may have languished on the shoreline for some time, but was shocked at how many ‘fresh’ items were collected, notably tealights and party poppers. “Clearly, some sort of engagement or proposal or celebration had occurred and no one bothered to pick up their stuff,” she said.

She’s currently working on a final tally of each type of object found in order to pass along the data to the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society.

Rebekah Smith and Peter Treiber trying their hardest to fit a tire inside a burlap bag.The rule of thumb of competition is that if it didn’t fit in the burlap bag, it could not be weighed. Several tires were brought throughout the competition, but only one was ever weighed. (Credit: Estefany Molina)

Many of the items found were sorted and will be donated to UpSculpt, a local nonprofit organization founded by artist Cindy Pease Roe, who uses the found items in her artwork to call attention to environmental issues.

Ms. Roe’s mission is to not only bring awareness but inspire people to consider their own relationship with single-use plastics that are harmful for the environment.

She hopes to specifically hone in on masks and other pandemic-related items that have become more prominent sources of litter as a result of COVID-19 for an upcoming piece.

Littered items, Ms. Roe said, can travel over 100 miles on land to make their way into the sea. 

“So when a mask falls off and it ends up in the street, there’s a good chance it’s going to go through one of the storm drains directly into our waterways,” she said.

She said she was inspired by the recent clean up and hopes to see similar efforts continue. “The amount they picked up was enormous,” she said. “Plastic never goes away and this is a good example of that.”

Team Dynamite. (Credit: Estefany Molina)

Ms. Molina, who initially was hoping for 10 individual people to participate, said she was overwhelmed by the support and the immediate impact it has had on local beaches.

She referenced a phrase used commonly in Latin America: Solo el Pueblo / Salva al Pueblo, which translates to only the people save the people.

“We need our environment, we need our seas and we need each other,” Ms. Molina said. “No task is insurmountable if we can all find common ground and work together towards the ideals that help make a better world.”