Forget About Red Tide, Trash Is The Real Disaster At Clearwater Beach

CLEARWATER, FL. – On a recent staycation to Clearwater Beach, I took a stroll down the world-famous beach on a Tuesday morning at 7:45 a.m.

I was appalled at what I saw in the form of pervasive garbage left on the sandy shores by the previous day’s beachgoers.

The mounds of trash would not have surprised me had it been the day after a summer holiday weekend, or even following a regular summer weekend day, but this was a Tuesday, meaning these mounds of trash were left there by Monday beachgoers – a day which was not a popular holiday or weekend. I can’t imagine what the trash looks like on the 5th of July.

The piles of garbage ranged from abandoned towels, shoes, beer bottles, soda cans, and the ubiquitous single-use plastic water bottle, as well as soiled baby diapers, plastic beach toys, plastic bags, plastic floaties, plastic floats, plastic netting – lots of plastic.

Photos By Chris Ingram

A few days after my visit I called the city and spoke to Brian DeWitt, Senior Manager of the City of Clearwater Parks Division to ask about all the human refuse left at the beach.

“We have city crews on the beach seven days a week from dusk until dawn…it is a trash horror show down there,” DeWitt said.

DeWitt said he has seen a change in behavior since the beaches reopened after Covid-related closings last year. “The demographics of those coming to the beach seem to have changed; there are a lot more local people coming to the beach versus tourists,” he said.

This struck me as odd since locals should be more inclined to keep the beaches clean since it is their beach – not to mention the economic benefits nice clean beaches bring to the area. DeWitt agreed, it is indeed odd.

According to the city’s Landscape Beautification Team, the city annually collects 40,000 yards of waste. To give you an idea of how much waste that is, a large roll-off dumpster is 23 ft. in length by 8 ft. in width by 7 ft. in height, and holds 40 yards.

40-Yard Dumpster

That means the city collects approximately 1,000 such dumpsters every year to remove trash from Clearwater Beach.

In my discussion with DeWitt, I told him of a few observations I had.

First of which was, the trash cans are all lined up linearly nearest the parking areas and sidewalks. As such, they are not necessarily convenient for beachgoers to use. He explained the linear nature is a necessary function to be out of the way of beachgoers when the trash truck drives down the beach. Makes sense.

I also suggested the city put up signs encouraging people to do their part to keep the beaches clean. DeWitt said that is something that has been discussed in the past.

Lastly, I asked if the city ever considered having trash bag distribution stations on the beach with signage encouraging the public to use them. I can tell you I have occasionally gone to the beach and then realized I didn’t bring a trash bag so I end up improvising to dispose of my trash.

A bag distribution station like dog poop bags are found in dog parks would be helpful.  DeWitt said it was a good idea, noting though that the bags would need to be paper in construction as introducing more plastic bags to the beach is not a good idea.

Photo By Chirs Ingram

I agreed but added there are plastic bags out there now (such as the ones used at Trader Joe’s) that are purported to be biodegradable. He said he would forward the idea.

On a lighter note, I asked DeWitt what the craziest thing in his recollection the city has ever removed from the beach.

“It was on the bayside, not on the beach, but we once removed a horse’s head off of the shore.”

Sounds like the Godfather may have been in the area.

In the end, I got a sense the city does a good job in its efforts to keep the beaches clean.

But it is a sad reflection on our society that there are so many people who enjoy using our beautiful outdoor areas, but don’t take it upon themselves to clean up their own mess so others can enjoy those areas later – especially if they are locals.

 Chris Ingram is a communication, political, and media consultant in Tampa. Follow him on Twitter at @IrreverentView or send him an e-mail to chris@tampafp.com.

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