Every Tuesday morning, weather permitting, for just over two years, Robert Banach and his team of volunteers have been keeping the Ocean City beach clean one bag of trash at a time. They’d like to make Ocean City’s beach the Cleanest Beach in America.
Banach will put the call-out on Facebook the Monday night before, and the next morning at 9 a.m., volunteers will meet at a designated spot on the beach or Boardwalk with gloves on and trash bags in hand. For an hour, they’ll walk up and down about five blocks, intent on making the area free of trash but also on having a little fun while they do it.
The #CleanBeachOC effort started in January of 2016, after winter storm Jonas wreaked havoc on Ocean City and left the coastline looking like a trash-ridden war zone. For a few days following the storm, 30-40 people would meet on the beach and perform damage control.
“Everybody came out for about a week because there was just so much trash along the beach,” Banach said. “For 10 days in a row we were cleaning up out here — we had the Chamber here, we had folks from Ocean City here, a bunch of restaurants had sent people down — we had a lot of people.”
Banach said that enough people wanted to continuing picking trash up off the beach even after the Jonas cleanup, which is why #CleanBeachOC continues to this day.
“We decided we’d keep doing it on Tuesday mornings because it’s after the weekend. With the Town of Ocean City cleaning up Saturday, Sunday, Monday, we give them a chance to do their job and then we clean up behind them.”
Tuesday morning beach cleanups are a year-round affair, even on brutally windy winter days when hats and full-on face masks are a necessity among volunteers. In fact, sometimes windy days are when volunteers are needed the most.
“[Trash] washes up, it blows around, it just gets terrible,” Banach said. “We’ve got conventions and whatnot that come into town during the off-season, we usually average 10, 15 lbs per person in the hour that we clean up. Last week we picked up about 150 lbs.”
Of the trash that litters the beach, he says that Styrofoam is the worst, and that there will be days when “there’s more Styrofoam than we know that to do with.”
According to the website of Ocean City’s Surfrider Foundation chapter, Syrofoam is one of the most common types of trash found on the beach, “along with single use plastics like bags, straws, plastic utensils and plastic bottles.”
Banach says he’d like to see more local businesses doing their part to keep such items off the beach. Mother’s Cantina is the first and currently the only Ocean Friendly restaurant in Ocean City, which means they do not use Styrofoam, they follow proper recycling practices, they provide only reusable tableware for on-site dining and only provide disposable utensils for take-out orders upon request, and they do not provide plastic bags for takeout.
And in spite of the Ocean City Boardwalk going smoke-free in 2015, Banach says that cigarette butts are another common item found on the beach, Boardwalk and the surrounding streets he and his volunteers cover. “They’re everywhere,” he said.
#CleanBeachOC is open for anyone to join, be that Ocean City locals or visitors who are only in town for a few days.
“This last summer we got people from Maine to Florida, to Iowa, Ohio, and all the local surrounding states that volunteered on a Tuesday morning to come out,” Banach said. “They come out to just lend a hand while they’re here, and it’s really cool.”
Anyone interested in volunteering their time to help clean up the beach can message Robert at Ocean City Cool for details, or simply follow the Ocean City Cool Facebook page for #CleanBeachOC updates.
*Cover image features volunteers Ben Semiatin and Darleen Lis.