Volunteers remove about 1,500 pounds of trash from Lake Tahoe beaches | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Volunteers remove about 1,500 pounds of trash from Lake Tahoe beaches

Maggie Mayer
mmayer@tahoedailytribune.com

After yesterday's Fourth of July festivities left mounds of cans, bottles, cigarette butts and plastic on Tahoe's shorelines, hundreds of volunteers gathered at five beaches for the League to Save Lake Tahoe's annual July 5 beach cleanup.

"Anyone want pizza?" said one of the League to Save Lake Tahoe's core volunteers, holding up a pizza box with half an unfinished pie, which had been abandoned on the beach sometime yesterday.

About 500 people turned out to volunteer for this year’s cleanup. Last year, volunteers collected more than 4,000 pounds of trash. This year's efforts yielded about 1,500 pounds between Reagan, Nevada and Kiva Beaches in South Shore.

"We were vacationing in Lake Tahoe anyway and I was looking for activities to do," said a volunteer at Nevada Beach, Ania Etlender, who is visiting from the Bay Area with her children. "I wanted to enforce their awareness of keeping places like this clean."

The League's Community Engagement Manager Marilee Movius said it's important that people take ownership for trash left behind. She emphasized the importance of volunteering at times when staff, like those at the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, can't clean up the shorelines alone.

"It takes a whole community to protect Lake Tahoe," Movius said. "The Tahoe land managers also do a really good job, but they need support and may not have enough paid staff to do it all."

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In addition to the environmental benefits, the cleanup is important for the League because it allows staff to collect data on the types of materials people are likely to leave behind and identify trash hotspots.

"I'm excited for the amount of volunteers signed up," said Chief Executive Officer Darcie Collins. "Everything the volunteers pick up they categorize."

Participants are given a Keep Tahoe Blue tote bag and a log sheet to collect and identify what they find, after which they bring it to the weigh station where it is weighed and sorted by the League's core volunteers.

As a result, the League is able to collect data about which materials are likely to be left behind, broadening its understanding of how to protect the Tahoe Basin from environmental threats. Earlier this year, South Lake Tahoe city council voted to ban polystyrene, or Styrofoam, which was proposed by the League and supported with data from the cleanups.

Both locals and visitors come to support the effort, and were encouraged to register online beforehand. Collins said she's known of people taking a day trip to the lake to volunteer, even if they didn't spend the Fourth in Tahoe.

Stateline resident Anne Marie Rose said it was her first time volunteering and she was looking forward to it because she was unable to in previous years.

"I understand why everyone wants to come here. It is so beautiful," she said. "But at the same time they need to respect it, respect our environment to keep it this beautiful."

Within half an hour of the Nevada Beach cleanup, volunteers were already sorting through a hefty pile of trash, but said they haven't seen the same frequency of larger items like clothing, blankets and tents left behind as in previous years.

"I was surprised how clean the beach is this year already," said Vicki Schussel, who has done the cleanup in the past. "As locals it's important that we have it clean for us and clean for visitors because they're supporting our economy."

Movius said the League encourages people to pick up every piece of trash, no matter how small, because they can be dangerous to wildlife.

Though they are hard to spot, objects like cigarette butts and bits of plastic can be particularly harmful if ingested by animals. This year volunteers picked up 8,061 butts and 18,235 pieces of plastic. Human food, though it appears biodegradable, should be treated like any other piece of trash.

The League hosts a number of other cleanups throughout the year, which can be found on the Keep Tahoe Blue website.

CORRECTION: The headline on this story has been corrected to state volunteers cleaned up about 1,500 pounds of trash. The story also has been corrected to say about 500 volunteers. The exact number was 499 volunteers.