Put on the sunscreen, bug spray, gloves and waders. It’s time to sweep, pull, drag, and otherwise clean up the debris along Bluffton’s beaches, sand bars and waterways. The all-volunteer event will be held Sept. 18 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Oyster Factory Park on the May River, at 63 Wharf St.
This is the 13th year that the Town of Bluffton has participated in the state’s annual Beach Sweep/River Sweep, and is a joint venture between the town, Lowcountry Stormwater Partners, South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium, and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
“Each local volunteer becomes a citizen-scientist, and records data about the type and amount of litter they collect. This data is tabulated, added to South Carolina’s statewide data, and is incorporated into the Ocean Conservancy’s worldwide data,” said Beth Lewis, Bluffton’s Water Quality Program administrator. “This cumulative data provides crucial information on the sources of litter so communities can better identify and target anti-litter education.”
The Outside Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded in 2014, is one of the many businesses and groups that participate regularly in the annual cleanup.
“Partnering with Beth Lewis and Bluffton’s stormwater team, we share a common mission in protecting our local waters,” said Executive Director Jean Fruh. “The Outside Foundation regularly conducts kayak-based cleanups in the Broad Creek and May River, and so it was just a natural for us. Since we have access to Palmetto Bluff through Outside Hilton Head, we were always able to bring kayaks and volunteers to that side of the May River.”
The foundation originated from Outside Hilton Head, a company that began with offering windsurfing school in Sea Pines, and now provides guided kayak tours, kayak fishing, boat-based dolphin tours, charter fishing, tours of historic Bluffton and Daufuskie, kids and teens camps, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) programs, boat rentals, and surf lessons.
“The big mission of The Outside Foundation is to connect youth, get kids in kayaks, and get people out and connected to these waterways,” Fruh said. “It’s important, and when you’re out there on a kayak and you see trash and pull it out, it makes a tremendous difference. One plastic bag can kill a dolphin.”
Other partners that have routinely participated in the annual sweep are the Hardeeville Walmart, Bluffton Walmart, Corner Perk, i2 Recycle, Waste Management, Keep Beaufort County Beautiful, the Beaufort County Solid Waste & Recycling Division, and Palmetto Pride.
Bluffton volunteers and partners have collected approximately 57,900 pounds (or more than 28.95 tons) of litter from the Bluffton Historic District and the May River since 2000. That much trash has a major impact on the area that goes beyond being unsightly.
“It’s probably one of the biggest threats we have to our quality of life, because we have a county that at high tide is half-covered with water, so our connections to our local waterways are part of our history, culture, daily lives, commerce, our economic base, fishing industry,” said Fruh. “For all of us, as residents. We are all connected to the health of our local waterways.”
As volunteers report back to Oyster Factory Park with their haul, Waste Management will provide recycling and waste disposal bins. Suitable material collected by event volunteers will be recycled, while the remaining litter collected will be disposed of properly, Lewis said.
Mike Bennett of i2 Recycle, whose company has been a regular participant, helped establish the recycling process in the sweep.
“We looked at what was coming out of the river, and we saw bottles and cans and other items that weren’t just trash. We set up bins and showed the volunteers how to sort the recyclable materials,” Bennett said. “We love setting up a recycling station to educate people. They used to carry one bag but now people carry two bags: one for trash and one for recycling.”
Bennett said that in the past, approximately 15 to 20% of the overall volume has been recyclable.
“And that doesn’t include the big bulk items like boat parts or tires,” he said. “And in future endeavors we have planned on doing somewhat of a construction debris recycle for when you get wood and bulky plastic items like coolers. That’s another chain of recycling.”
Residents, business owners and visitors are invited to take part in the state’s largest one-day litter cleanup of beaches, marshes and waterways. Gloves, bags, sunscreen and water will be provided at the event. Participants should wear comfortable clothes and appropriate footwear – and bring a friend, organizers suggest.
Corner Perk will provide coffee before the sweep begins, and the Hardeeville and Bluffton Walmart stores will bring free snacks and water.
Those who would like to participate with their own boat or kayak, should arrive by 8:30 a.m. to allow time for setup.
The foundation and other groups are recruiting volunteers to help with the sweep. Any large groups that wish to participate should contact Lewis at 843-706-4559 or via email at blewis@townof bluffton.com so there will be a sufficient supply of materials and snacks.
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.