In tandem with Governor Gina M. Raimondo’s initiative to invest in and celebrate the state park system, the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is working to improve trash and recycling services at state beaches and reduce litter in parks, beaches, and parking areas this summer.
Everyone who enjoys parks, beaches, and public outdoor spaces has a responsibility to keep them clean. Consistent with this ethic,
DEM will continue the carry-in/carry-out trash policy that has been in effect since 1992. Using announcements, social media, signage, and advertising, the Department aims to raise public awareness of the positive values of bringing waste-free lunches and reusable meal and drink containers to the beach and the negative impacts of ugly and unsanitary trash on shorelines.
“The point of our carry-in/carry-out policy is for visitors to take personal responsibility, take their trash with them, and leave no trace behind,” said DEM Director Janet Coit in a statement. “We agree with the National Park Service and most state park systems across the country that this is a best practice because it promotes conservation, fosters a sense of stewardship, and leads to better visitor experiences.”
More than 1 million patrons visit state beaches between Memorial Day and Labor Day every year, and the sheer volume of customers during peak season inevitably strains services and creates challenges related to trash management. DEM rangers clean up trash on beaches and in the parking lots throughout the day; after hours, DEM beach-cleaning contractors send out crews to pick trash. By the next morning, contractors send other crews out combing the beaches and parking lots along with tractor rakes cleaning up excess litter and seaweed and smoothing the sand for the new day.
The top three categories of trash collected in beach cleanups in Rhode Island in 2018 were plastic and foam pieces less than 2.5 centimeters (so-called “tiny trash”), accounting for 28% of all beach litter; smoking-related litter consisting of cigarette butts, wrappers, and cigar tips constituting 25% of the total trash; and drinking-related trash at 23%, according to Save The Bay. Among the trash collected in the third category were plastic bottles, glass bottles, cans, caps, and plastic straws, lids, and stirrers.
DEM, which supports efforts to reduce plastic pollution, acknowledges that it has work to do reducing its own use of plastics. At state beach entrance booths this summer (except Misquamicut), parking attendants will hand out small trash bags by request only and remind patrons of the carry-in/carry-out policy. At Misquamicut, the state’s biggest and most popular beach, no bags will be available as part of a new approach being tested in collaboration with the Town of Westerly to address the problem of excessive trash left on the beach and in the parking lot.
Also, DEM will position dumpsters at every other beach entry point and Westerly is supplying a solar-powered Bigbelly waste recycling system at the pavilion. Misquamicut visitors – 78% of whom are from out-of-state – will have access to these dumpsters to deposit trash and recyclables as they exit the beach and return to their vehicles. DEM will add four seasonal employees at Misquamicut to monitor the containers and collect litter and trash from the parking area and beach. DEM will measure the success of the pilot program through customer surveys and quantitative litter assessments.
Town Councilor Caswell Cooke, who also heads the Misquamicut Business Association, said, “I am very pleased that DEM is implementing this pilot program here at our beach. As the largest state beach, we are excited to partner with the state in tackling this problem and are very grateful to the Governor and Director for listening to our concerns and finding a solution to the problem.”
Rhode Island’s natural and public assets – including eight saltwater beaches, 8,200 acres of parkland, 1,000 campsites, 400 miles of hiking and biking trails, 200 fishing spots, and 25 parks and nature preserves – are magnets, attracting more than 9 million Rhode Islanders and tourists a year. They’re also an engine that add an estimated $315 million to the economy, generating nearly $40 million in state and local taxes and supporting nearly 4,000 jobs a year. However, more visitors (a 37% increase in beach visitation from 2010 to 2017), far fewer employees (full-time staffing in DEM’s Parks and Recreation Division has dropped by 67%, to 42 FTEs from 123, since 1989), longer seasons, and aging facilities are hindering DEM’s ability to meet some park users’ expectations. According to a recent study, Rhode Island’s parks and beaches rank first nationally in visits per acre but 47th in state support per visit.
DEM is encouraging beachgoers to “Beach More, Wait Less” by buying season parking passes online before going to the beach this summer ($30 for Rhode islanders, $60 for nonresidents, 50% discount for senior citizens 65 and older). For online purchases, the season pass will be mailed to the address provided when the pass was purchased and must be affixed to the outside of the windshield of the vehicle it was registered to. Customers who have bought passes but not received them in the mail may show parking lot attendants their purchase confirmation email for entry; this confirmation can be on your phone and shown to booth attendants at entry, but please have paper back-up for any service or phone issues. Visit www.riparks.com and buy your season pass today!