Sunset with beer can

A lament on the trashing of beaches

I must have picked up 30 pounds of beer bottles from a beach on the California coast yesterday. In all my life, I’ve never seen, nor ever imagined, such a scene. Who would have been so disrespectful as to let such a mess of garbage—beverage containers, cigarette packs and butts, fast-food wrappers, and toilet paper—pile up next to the ocean? What sane person wouldn’t drive his jalopy up to the mess, take a swig from a jug of wine and haul the trash out?

It seems to me, anyway.

We were all raised to respect the beach, if nothing else. Urban alleys and rural highways will always be festooned with the same basic mix of trash, with urine-filled Gatorade bottles added in like miniature dayglow mileage markers. That’s the price we pay for having modern conveniences and blissful lifestyles.

Still, so far, we’ve mostly agreed to respect the beaches. They are a big part of why people visit and yearn to live here in California. The shoreline appears on postcards, always with the trash cleverly edited out, I suppose. They are a visible symbol of exactly how much self-respect we have. If I run the risk of cutting my toe on your beer bottle while walking on a beautiful stretch of sand, we’re not really living in a shared culture of cooperation, are we?

What really got to me was the fact that I was picking up trash on the beach, out in the open, on a beautiful sunny day, right in front of people who had, until that moment, been successfully ignoring the obnoxious litter of their predecessors, like so many slowly evolving wildebeest, unable to comprehend the signs of their own demise.

Have we really fallen this far?

My suspicion is that most, if not all, of the beer, soda, energy-drink and purified-tap-water containers, along with cigarette packs and fast-food wrappers, were bought, transported to the site, and festively consumed by Californians, specifically the type who enjoy beaches. I’m fairly sure that their parents, at least those of my generation, have been taught for decades not to spoil the beaches.

The fines for dumping trash are enormous, or so the roadside signs say.

So, what’s going on?

Somehow, the message we were taught has not made it through to whoever eats and drinks on the beaches these days.