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A Year of Trash: This is only the beginning

Written by Kelsey Kuykendall


Posted on January 15 2023

“The single raindrop never feels responsible for the flood” – Douglas Adams

Imagine you are walking along your favorite beach, and you start to notice a piece of trash here and there. The next thing you know, you are seeing trash everywhere! We all know littering is bad, so why is there still so much trash? There can be many sources from trash being blown out of garbage trucks, that stray chip bag that got away, or even something left behind unintentionally. At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter as much where it came from. The big question is what we are going to do about it.

Follow me as I spend the next year attempting to make a dent in a massive problem. What if the solution isn’t to try and tackle the problem all at once, but to start with raindrops of good, then cause that flood. We may not be able to pick up every single piece of litter, but every piece of trash that is removed from the environment is, in fact, one less piece of trash that will end up in our oceans or in the belly of a sea creature. Now consider if each person is creating raindrops, how quickly the water would rise.

Before we get too into the core of this post, I would like to introduce you briefly to the original Sea Fans, Chris and myself (Kelsey). Chris and I met in graduate school in 2012, and by 2018 we had both achieved our Master’s Degrees in Coastal Sciences. In 2020, our “COVID project” became something bigger than we dreamed it could be and Thalassas was born! Since our launch in June 2021, we have conducted eight beach clean-up events through our Sea Fans Clean-Up Crew as of January 2023. We have big plans for the Sea Fans Clean-Up Crew this year, so stay tuned!

Are you still with me? Okay, great! Now to the good stuff!

My first collection of the year was on Front Beach in Ocean Springs, MS. This is a lovely stretch of sandy beach along the MS Gulf Coast. Home to artists, a lively fishing community, and the research lab where Chris and I both got our Master's Degrees, Ocean Springs is definitely a hidden gem. Front Beach holds a special place in many chapters of my life. From training runs to walks with friends, bike rides, and some amazing sunsets, so many memories take place there. My collection took place on a sunny evening, much like most evenings on Front Beach. The strangest part of this typical evening was that it was around 70 degrees in January. As I walked along with my bucket and glove, what I thought would be a standard combing for trash quickly turned into a themed event: pick up the cigarette butts. In less than an hour, I had picked up enough cigarette butts to completely fill a 1 liter container. I was quite unprepared for that many cigarette butts at once! Next month, I will go in more prepared to handle the massive amount.

Let’s chat for a second about cigarette butts. First, cigarette butts are the most littered item in the world with a total estimated 4.5 trillion being discarded annually. Next, did you know that cigarette butts are not made of cotton? The fibrous part of the filter is actually made of something called cellulose acetate, a man-made plastic material. Admittedly I didn’t realize this either until about a year ago. Cellulose acetate can take up to TEN years to decompose depending on the environment. Considering how ubiquitous tobacco use is, I think it is safe to say this isn’t something that is a small local issue that one person or even a small group can totally solve. However, there is hope for moving forward in the right directions. You can recycle cigarette butts! No kidding! There is a company online called TerraCycle (check our for the link) that will recycle rolling paper, outer plastic and inner foil packaging, loose tobacco pouches and cigarette butts. They will also provide receptacles that you can place around your environment to collect butts before they even have a chance to hit the ground. Cigarette butts aren't the only items they have FREE recycling programs for so, please go check them out! 

In conclusion, please take these points away from our first installment of a year of trash. YOU can make a difference, don’t be afraid to be the first person to start a little rain! If you care about an area, spend a little time taking care of it. You won’t regret it. And lastly, there is hope for the future! Thank you for sticking with me to the end, and come back next month for our second post!



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