Get the Drift cleanups still going strong

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (09/09/00)
By Ray Pendleton

There's nothing like an annual event to make you realize just how fast time keeps zipping by.

It was 1993 (the Water Ways column was in its first year) when I first wrote about our state's coastal litter cleanup day called Get the Drift and Bag It.

Now, Hawaii's 14th annual Get the Drift and Bag It Day will be taking place next Saturday, according to Priscilla Billig of the University of Hawaii's Sea Grant Program.

In '93, the state coordinated the cleanup effort through its now defunct Litter Control Office. That year, about 10,000 volunteers at 50 locations around the state took part in Hawaii's part of this international, shoreline cleanup.

Then, as now, as the litter was picked up, it was cataloged as to its amount and types. And after the tally of some 90 tons of collected trash was made, it was apparent that no single category of refuse even came close to the amount of litter left by smokers. Cigarette butts were, by far, the most numerous single item in the overall count.

By 1996, due to budgetary constraints, the Litter Control Office had been closed and the coordination of the coastal cleanup had been taken over by the state's Coastal Zone Management Program and the Sea Grant Program.

The numbers of volunteers dropped that year to just under 4,000 people, but the total amount of trash collected was still an impressive 161,661 pounds. And again, cigarette butts were the most often found item collected.

Fast forward to 1999. According to Billig, the number of volunteers rose to 4,279 and, correspondingly, the gross weight (pun intended) of the collected litter totaled at 227,759 pounds - nearly 114 tons. And, no surprise, cigarette butts were once more the most common single element counted.

Now, some might say that the cataloging of all the refuse seems to make it apparent that smokers are society's biggest litters. But I think it's more likely that it just shows that when the discarded item is as small as a cellulose filter, it's perceived as harmless to toss it out a car window, flick it off a boat, or bury it in the beach sand.

The full impact of these individual acts of littering, however small, just suddenly become hugely noticeable when thousands of cigarette butts are blown into drifts along our city's street gutters and then are washed into our waterways by the first rainstorm.

The cataloging of the retrieved litter should also be a reminder to all of us that behind every bit of it, there is a person who didn't bother to dispose of their trash in a responsible manner.

As the Pogo cartoon character pointed out years ago, "We have met the enemy and it is us."

Certainly, individually, we all need to dispose of litter properly, but the shear volume of litter being collected during these annual cleanups may also raise the question of whether we, as a community, should be doing more to solve the problem.

Other cities across the nation, and particularly those that attract large numbers of tourists, have weekly street sweeping programs.

There, streets are posted with "no parking" signs that specify certain hours of certain days that a sweeper will be able to clean the streets, right up to the curb.

Perhaps, one day, we will see such a program here. But until we do, we can rely on the Get the Drift and Bag It program to keep bringing our attention to the problem.

If you would like to help out, give them a call at 956-2872.

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