Hitting the Beaches

MARQUETTE – Several members of the Marquette County Youth Advisory Council spent a portion of their morning Thursday cleaning up some of the Marquette area’s most popular summer hangouts: the beaches at Picnic Rocks and McCarty’s Cove.

Hauling trash bags half-filled with litter and debris on their backs, the young people ranging in age from seventh-graders to juniors in high school fanned out along the beach, collecting as much trash as they could in the hour they spent cleaning.

And the most common type of trash they found?

“Cigarette butts,” said Elle Pearson, a junior at Marquette Senior High School.

Though the length of time it takes for a cigarette butt to break down varies widely – estimates have been made from just a few months to 15 years – some companies are trying to jump on the green bandwagon in an effort to make money, even if it means hitching that wagon to one of the country’s most vilified habits.

Organizations like “Greenbutts” are attempting to patent a biodegradable cigarette filter. According to its website, www.greenbutts.org, the company uses only natural materials, such as flax, hemp and cotton in its filters, which it says will be rolling out in early 2014.

But cigarette butts aren’t the only problem. Often, plastic bags and fast food packaging can be found buried in the sand, along with plastic forks and knives and other food-related items, not to mention household trash that people throw into the beach grass or woods along the beach.

According to a 2009 Michigan Sea Grant study, 11,373 individual pieces of trash were removed from Lake Superior beaches in the Upper Peninsula that year, totaling 1,057 pounds of trash. A total of 669 volunteers donated 1,988 hours to help clean up the beaches. In the Marquette area alone, a total of 1,512 items were collected, totaling 220 pounds of trash, according to the study.

According to information from the International Coastal Cleanup, run each year by the Ocean Conservancy, cigarette butts are the No. 1 form of trash found on beaches, followed by food wrappers and plastic bottles. Also common are plastic bags, caps and lids, straws and stirrers, glass beverage bottles, beverage cans and paper bags.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.