“Not My Trash – But I Picked It Up.”
Coastal Cleanup 2020

By Joanna Wilson

For 32 years, more than 1,500 volunteers participated in the annual Coastal Cleanup event. Organized by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and its partners, the volunteers clear hundreds of miles and tons of trash in a single day along Delaware’s beaches, waterways and wetlands. To make Coastal Cleanup accessible and safe for everyone this year, the effort transitioned to a month-long campaign.

We invited volunteers to choose their own place to clean, from their favorite beach or park to their own neighborhood. And we encouraged volunteers to share their photos and findings with us. The data was instantaneously uploaded to our dashboard so anytime, anywhere we could all see the impact the effort had on making our ocean and waterways cleaner and healthier.

Coastal Cleanup’s foundation messages remained the same: join us to make a difference — and make every day Coastal Cleanup day by properly disposing of trash and recyclables and by picking up trash we find all year long. Remember, all of Delaware is coastal, connected to the Delaware River, bay and ocean. And, from Governor Carney’s Keep DE Litter Free initiative: by working together, we can keep Delaware clean and litter free.

A Community Coastal Cleanup Crusader

Coastal Cleanup volunteer Kathleen McMichael hates to see trash on the streets, blowing into people’s yards and falling into the Delaware River. When the Delaware City native heard about this year’s month-long, close-to-home event, she submitted on the cleanup’s online volunteer survey: “I’m cleaning the streets and parks in Delaware City this month.” She meant it, heading out almost every day all month.

“I volunteer for Adopt-A-Highway, but that’s only three times a year. I want to do more than that. Since I walk every day, I started bringing my bucket and grabber to pick up trash around town,” McMichael said. “Visitors come to town for the restaurants, Fort Delaware, boating, fishing and bike riding. I want them to see our beautiful town instead of litter on the streets.”

McMichael’s carefully documented results offer a detailed snapshot of the trash littering her picturesque Bayshore hometown.

  • Her biggest numbers: More than 1,850 stray pieces of paper and cardboard, nearly 1,900 discarded cigarette butts, cigar tips and related packaging, and over 1,000 food-related items, including bottles, cans, cups, drink pouches, caps, lids and straws.
  • Interesting finds: hairweave, lace choker, coat hangers, Q-tips, bolts, buttons, crayons, dental picks, weed whacker wire, puzzle pieces, a phone charging cord, fish ruler, bait containers, line, hooks and bobbers. New to Coastal Cleanup — and signs of the times: 20 latex gloves and more than 20 face masks.

Photo of Dastina and Miguel Wallace, and kids, of Dover

Messages from Dedicated Volunteers

Dastina and Miguel Wallace of Dover made Coastal Cleanup a family affair at Slaughter Beach with their two kids, Blake, 5, and Taylor, 4. Their goal: to show them the importance of keeping our beaches and open spaces clean and inspire them to do the same in the future.

“Our children are little copycats. Whatever we do, they want to do,” Dastina said. “The other day my daughter asked when we were going back to clean, and I couldn’t have been more proud!”

An active 4-H member with a passion for reducing plastic use, Murphy McCarroll, 14, did her Coastal Cleanup this year at Bethany Beach, Cape Henlopen and Fenwick Island, noting findings from a lost pair of expensive shoes to five abandoned beach chairs.

“One person can’t make much of a difference,” she said. “But if several people put trash where it belongs, and dial back their use of plastic, they can really change the amount of trash that ends up in the ocean.”

Photo of Babs McGrory

Babs McGrory, who logged seven cleanup days at Delaware Seashore, Fenwick Island and Selbyville and shared photos holding her trash picker aloft in challenge, asked a good question: “What is it with people losing their shoes? I always find shoes!”

Laurie Ryan, cleaning up at Camp Arrowhead near Lewes, got creative with her cleanup partners, outfitting her two dogs with saddlebags. One of her dogs, Bagel, is a “supply runner” in the war against litter.

“He carries the gloves, bags, wipes and hand sanitizer in his backpack as we walk down Camp Arrowhead Road on most days,” Ryan said. “And ‘beware of dog’ — he eats litterbugs!”

Delaware Seashore volunteer Tracy Thomas perhaps best summed up the month —and the cleanup — with her simple post: “Not my trash…but I picked it up.”

Joanna Wilson is a public relations specialist with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and has helped coordinate the Coastal Cleanup for 15 years in Delaware.