Last year I started the Better Beach Project in VA Beach, VA. The way it works is simple- we provide small 16 oz containers to local businesses. Anyone can come into the businesses and pick up the containers for free. They take the containers to the beach and fill them with broken glass, rusty bottlecaps, fish hooks, cigarette butts, or other small but potentially harmful beach litter. They take the full container back to one of the participating businesses and exchange them for a small incentive- a free coffee, half-off growler fill of beer, free yoga class, or stack of pancakes to name a few. Last summer we partnered with 18 businesses, distributed 1,500 containers and removed an estimated 800 gallons of trash of the beach (most of which was broken glass). This year, we are on track to partner with over 60 businesses and just received our first order of 5,000 containers. We plan on running the project in Virginia Beach from April 22nd (Earth Day) through the end of August.

The motivation for the project came from an incident where my dog got a half-dollar sized slice of glass stuck in his paw while we were playing Frisbee on the beach near our house. Additionally, my gripe with traditional beach cleanups is that they end, everybody high-fives, and goes home. How hard would it have been for someone to notice the shard of glass that ended up in my dog's foot? Probably not hard. Either nobody noticed it or nobody cared enough to pick it up. We think our project solves both of those problems, has the potential to influence the community over a longer period than a single beach cleanup, and most importantly, we think there's nothing about this idea that's exclusive to our community.


Comments: 24 • Responses: 10  • Date: 

showersareevil12 karma

Usually when I hear ideas like this that will benefit the environment or help clean up the beaches, they sound great initially, but I highly doubt that they can be sustainable for a long period of time.

However, your project sounds awesome! The businesses have an incentive to encourage their customers to clean up the beaches to get people back in their business, and people have another incentive to clean up the beach.

That said, do any people from putting their own trash in the jars and getting the discount?

Are there any other organizations that have similar goals to yours but have failed? How are you doing things differently from them?

Thanks for making the world a better place my man!

raddlesnake8 karma

Thanks for the kind words!

We were initially worried about people discarding their own trash- we use the businesses to help self police that kind of stuff, but it honestly hasn't been an issue. Part of offering the incentive is that it's something between 2-5 dollars. It's enough to make the effort worth it, but not so nice that it would be worth it to cheat. This has been a concern for the businesses and we haven't had any of them come back to us saying it's a problem, so I think we're doing something right!

Plenty of organizations do cleanups and plenty of organizations try to create buy in. I think a key point where we differ from those other programs is that we target the people in local businesses, most of which are residents of the community. When the businesses support the community, the community supports the businesses. If anything, the role of our project is to facilitate that relationship in the background rather than lead from the front and have everyone fall into place behind us.

VladMolina6 karma

A 16 oz container full of potentially harmful beach litter sounds like, well, alot. I am surprised anybody is really willing to do that much work for a free coffee.

How many of your 18 businesses from last year are participating this year?

raddlesnake7 karma

All of them and then some!

And I totally agree about your 16 ounces comment, but there's a lot of small that are out there. I feel one container pretty much every time I go to the beach. I can fill one in 30 minutes if I'm getting after it.

VladMolina2 karma

So are people really doing 30 minutes of work on the beach in exchange for a free cup of coffee (and of course the satisfaction of helping out the community)? Or were most of the cups returned to businesses for rewards last year for bigger rewards? Do you know the average retail price of a reward that was actually collected?

This sounds like a really great idea that could be featured in a book like Freakonomics someday.

raddlesnake8 karma

We ask our participating businesses to keep the incentives in the 2-5 dollar range. Some may be worth more to the person turning in a full container- 2-5 dollars for the business can be greater for the consumer, depending on the business. We've found that's the sweet spot for motivating people to take action without being so awesome that they'd cheat. Over the course of the summer last year, we estimated that we removed 800 gallons of small litter from the beach, 16 oz at a time.

I wonder what scale we'd have to reach to be freakonomics worthy..

Leff_hook5 karma

I attend a festival that had something like this. They used to give a free ice cream cone to anyone for a 20oz soda bottle full of cigarette butts. It was a great idea but was eventually scrapped due to sanitary concerns.

At the beach you have cigarette butts, glass, all kind of plastic, etc... Do you provide people with latex/rubber gloves or things like alcohol wipes to keep potential cleaners, well... clean?

I know it sounds like a non-issue but you may be surprised by the amount of people who want to help but don't want to get their or their kid hands dirty or cut by random broken glass.

raddlesnake6 karma

This is definitely a concern of ours. For the time being, we dont distribute any gloves. We educate people to be as safe as they can be, given the circumstances, but you raise a great point.

For glass, its typically not a big problem, so long as kids are supervised and everyone is being careful. For cigarette butts, we recommend people scoop them up with our containers, and then shake the sand out. Nobody wants to touch a gross cigarette butt (with their hand or their feet). This whole dilemma is kind of the point that I wish we could make to the people that leave them there - even the people who are willing to clean up after you have a hard time doing it.

OnionRingSamsquamtch4 karma

Do you think it could be a possibility that someone litigates over injuring themselves trying to pick up broken glass to get the rewards? If so, then how do you respond in such a case?

raddlesnake3 karma

I think the liability would lie more with whoever is responsible for the area in which the hazard was located, but I'd need to do some research. The precedent we've reviewed is situations where people are injured by hazardous objects in parking lots (rusty nails for example) and the owner of the parking lot being liable.

BigCubesAreLife3 karma

how's your dog?

raddlesnake2 karma

He's good! Still hanging out on the beach when he can!

dracapis2 karma

What was the biggest obstacle you found while you were creating your organization?

raddlesnake2 karma

Getting the attention of the first ten businesses. Once I had my "pitch" down and was better practiced at communicating our message, the rest were much easier. I found that I only had about 30 seconds to prove that I was worth listening to, so I had to get my point across accurately and quickly. This was not something that I had ever done before.

Negizaka2 karma

How do you get publicity for your project? Is it known to any public office or community organization?

raddlesnake1 karma

Most of how we spread the word comes from the participating businesses. We lean on them a lot, but we also think they get something out of it. We reach out to various media sources to spread the word as well- the most recent being an article published on The Inertia's website.

forava71 karma

have you met any famous people ho have came out and helped?

raddlesnake5 karma

Not outside of people who are sort of big deals locally.

Buncha great dogs though.

ninjia11 karma

do you have plans for helping other beach cities kickstart a similar program?

raddlesnake2 karma

Still trying to figure out the most effective way to accomplish this! Really, we need a solid point of contact to take the idea and run with it within each city.