By Rachel Brown Hackney
Members of the Keep Sarasota County Beautiful (KSCB) Advisory Board recently put the spotlight on Siesta’s beaches, reporting to the County Commission about efforts to end littering, especially in regard to cigarette butts.
During the April 24 presentation of the board’s annual report to the County Commission, First Vice Chair Gena Allison talked about how a video taken by a resident in May 2017 led to a significant reduction in the amount of trash left on the public beach.
That video, Allison told the commissioners, showed the debris left by Memorial Day visitors. “[It] went viral and it was evident that we could be part of the solution,” Allison said.
KSCB partnered with several county departments — Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources, Communications, and Solid Waste, among them — “to launch Operation Yellow Bag for the July 4 holiday [that year],” she continued.
Thanks to an array of public service announcements, social media posts, radio/TV/newspaper interviews, signage at the beach accesses reminding visitors to “Put litter in its place” and the distribution of yellow bags, she said, the aftermath did prove to be a better situation than in the past. The team found 25% of the yellow bags in dumpsters at the accesses, she noted, and less litter remained on the beach.
“The program has continued over the past 15 months,” she told the commission, and it was expanded to include all major county beaches. “The amount of positive feedback has been overwhelming,” she added. “Staff continues to see a reduction in the amount of litter on the beaches during holidays and is finding a 50%-plus return on the number of yellow bags being filled and disposed of properly.”
Then Allison turned to the Cigarette Litter Prevention Program (CLPP) for which the county received a $5,000 grant in 2017.
KSCB worked with the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) staff, Allison noted, “to identify high-traffic areas and transition points and installed more than 30 Sidewalk Butler units on Siesta Key as a pilot program. The units feature customized artwork specific to Sarasota County with a call-to-action message: ‘Thank you for keeping our beaches clean. Deposit your cigarette butts here’ printed on the [units].”
During the first scan of results in the spring of 2017, she said, “We collected close to 4,000 cigarette butts and cigar tips. Approximately 10 weeks after installation,” she added, “litter amounts decreased by approximately 30%.
“Fast forward one year to June 2018, and the scan showed a 78% decrease in cigarette litter, which signified that our education efforts were successful and the program was worth replicating at other venues,” Allison told the commission.
Near the Sept. 30, 2018 end of the past fiscal year, she said, “KSCB was able to obtain an additional 40-plus units from the Keep America Beautiful Stand for the Land program.” The PRNR staff selected the locations for the new receptacles, Allison reported, and the units were installed. “We continue to see an increase in their use, resulting in a decrease of butt litter.”
By the way, earlier in the report, the advisory board chair, Candice Messerschmidt, told the commissioners that during the 2018 fiscal year, more than 1,800 volunteers contributed more than 3,480 hours of service during the Great American Cleanup in the spring of 2018, the Liberty Litter cleanup on July 5, 2018 and the Adopt-A-Road Program. Altogether, she said, they collected more than 12.8 tons of trash and recyclable materials from the county’s beaches, parks and roadways.
Commissioner Alan Maio asked her to repeat that last part.
After Messerschmidt did so, Maio responded, “Unbelievable.”