OC Council Hears Anti-Litter Campaign Detains

OCEAN CITY — Ocean City’s aggressive new anti-litter campaign is aimed at curbing trash in and around the resort area during the summer, but the question was raised this week if the town is doing enough to keep the beaches clean during the offseason.

During Monday’s meeting, the Mayor and Council got an update on the “Every Litter Bit Hurts” campaign, an initiative of the Coastal Resources Legislative Committee, or Green Team. Last month, the committee held a roundtable discussion about the anti-litter campaign expected to be rolled out before the summer season and continue through the peak season months.

Consistent complaints heard last summer related to the amount of trash swirling around the Boardwalk and the side streets, particularly in the high-volume downtown area. The public works department did its typical yeoman’s work in keeping the beach and Boardwalk clean and emptying trash cans, but there was a noticeable uptick in debris strewn throughout the summer.

The quasi-private Adopt Your Street and Adopt Your Beach programs continued their efforts to keep the resort clean. Nonetheless, a consistent theme last summer was the amount of trash and litter blowing around in the resort. The contributions were likely many including many businesses, at least early on, operating in a carryout-only model. There was likely some change in the general public’s attitude with the COVID pandemic ongoing and the civil unrest unfolding around the country.

As a result, the Green Team is implementing the “Every Litter Bit Hurts” campaign aimed at reversing that trend and changing the public’s attitude about simply discarding trash and other litter wherever they please. Based loosely on the decades-old “Keep America Beautiful” campaign, the initiative is a holistic, multi-faceted approach rooted in public outreach and education.

Council Secretary and Green Team liaison Tony DeLuca said the anti-litter campaign will be recognition-based with a focus on rewarding groups and individuals for doing their part in keeping the beaches, Boardwalk and side streets clean, but there is an enforcement element. Last year, just seven municipal citations for littering were issued, despite one of the trashiest summers in recent memory.

For the anti-litter campaign to achieve the desired results, the public will have to buy into it. To that end, the plan includes more signage, social media outreach efforts, outdoor displays, banner planes, billboards and print and television ads, all with a consistent “kill them with kindness” message. The plan also includes a new town-sponsored website highlighting clean-up events and volunteer opportunities.

Naturally, the town’s litter problem is largely a summer season phenomenon, but the issue was raised this week if enough is being done in the offseason to curb the problem. The beach-cleaning tractors run from May essentially through Sunfest and the omnipresent blue trash cans are out on the beach roughly during the same time span.

However, Councilman John Gehrig pointed out he has often been out on the beach during the offseason and has seen an inordinate amount of trash and other waste, including discarded firewood from the increasingly popular beach bonfire program. Gehrig questioned if there should be a concerted effort from the town to curb the litter problem in the offseason.

The Adopt Your Beach and Adopt Your Street programs do an admirable job throughout the year, as do other volunteer clean-up efforts, but Gehrig questioned if the town could do more to maintain the beaches throughout the year.

“What if we look into a beach tractor schedule in the winter?” he said. “We’re trying to keep this world class and clean, but I’ve been out on the beach and there’s a lot of trash out there, even in the winter. I really think we need a beach cleaning schedule in the winter.”

Gehrig said he often picks up trash and other waste when walking the beaches during the offseason, but another problem is the lack of trash receptacles in which to deposit it. He said the public would likely do the same if there were at least a limited number of trashcans out there in the offseason.

“I see the trash and plastic washing up on the beach,” he said. “I pick it up and I know a lot of our residents and visitors do also, but there’s nowhere to throw it away. I really think we need some trash cans out there, even in the winter.”

City Manager Doug Miller said he would coordinate with Public Works Director Hal Adkins on a plan to carryout Gehrig’s suggestions.

“We can work with Hal and see what it would cost to run the beach tractors occasionally in the winter,” he said. “Maybe that would address some of the issues with littering and trash that you’re talking about.”

DeLuca agreed there could and probably should be more trashcans available.

“We’re going to have a discussion about maintaining trash cans in the winter,” he said. “That’s a much bigger issue, I agree.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.