Hats off to the volunteer cleanup crew

Did you see how many people were in Northeast Michigan this week for the holiday?

With all those people, did you ever wonder what becomes of the garbage, rubbish and trash left behind? Let’s be honest, many of us are terrible when it comes to cleaning up after ourselves.

I was impressed to learn that someone had been thinking about that garbage and the day after the holiday, volunteers were out combing the beaches and cleaning up. The volunteer efforts were both to keep the pristine beauty of the region just that — pristine — as well as to prevent troublesome litter like plastics from getting into the watershed, where they never entirely deteriorate.

The volunteers were affiliated with two different groups — Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative and the Huron Pines AmeriCorps.

Together, they did a great job Thursday.

“We are here at Alpena’s local beaches to do a trash cleanup after the fireworks. It’s a really busy time of the year, so we need to keep our beaches clean to promote tourism,” Meag Schwartz, coordinator with the Great Lakes Stewardship, told reporter Jordan Spence for a news story.

How great is that?

When you stop to ponder all that could be left behind, it can be considerable. Certainly the volunteers were discovering that very fact Thursday with their efforts.

In previous years, approximately 15,000 volunteers have worked together on July 5 along the Great Lakes shoreline. Last year, nearly 18 tons of trash were removed from the beaches that day. The number is staggering.

Of that waste, nearly 85 percent was plastic.

Much has been made in recent months about the threat of plastics to our environment. In several areas, boaters have taken to the water to round up floating plastic debris that, unfortunately, litters an otherwise beautiful setting. The groups working together Thursday said 22 million pounds of plastic end up in the Great Lakes every year. That is a frustrating statistic that needs to be reversed.

I appreciate these wonderful volunteers who graciously gave of their time and talent this week to make our beaches cleaner.

They were there making a difference for all of us.

These volunteers could have been enjoying many other pursuits that day, but instead they spent it cleaning.

To each of you, I say “thank you” for a job well done.

Your efforts are indeed appreciated.

Bill Speer can be reached via email at bspeer@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 354-3111 ext. 331. Follow Bill on Twitter @billspeer13.