GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Nearly 22 million pounds of plastic debris get into the Great Lakes each year, according to a Rochester Institute of Technology study.

Beach cleanups help combat that by collecting plastic and other litter found on beaches and by raising awareness about the problem.

There are lots of opportunities in West Michigan to get involved in a beach cleanup.

LAKESHORE CLEANUP COALITON

Seven Ottawa County and Allegan County organizations form the Lakeshore Cleanup Coalition. Members of the coalition host beach and river cleanups.

The coalition was started in the summer of 2020, when the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council got a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Kelly Goward, the watershed manager at the ODC Network, said.

Ottawa County Parks and Recreation, the Ottawa Conservation District, Hope College, the ODC Network, the Allegan Conservation District and the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council are all part of the coalition.

“The goal of the coalition is to reduce litter and trash that gets into the Great Lakes,” Goward said. “So hosting volunteer cleanups along our beaches and in the connecting waterways, and then also doing some public outreach and education to just raise awareness of the issue, that it is a big issue in the Great Lakes.”

Volunteers have removed around 2,700 pounds of trash from beaches and rivers, Goward said. She said a lot of that is made up of small pieces or lightweight plastic.

Goward said at river locations, the coalition sends people out in kayaks to be able to get things out of the water.

All are welcome to participate in the cleanups.

“We do welcome all ages to participate,” Goward said. “Certainly if you have small children, we ask that they be accompanied by adults. But we’ve had all ages, from 3 to 99, participate with us.”

To find and register for a cleanup, go to the-macc.org/cleanup-events.

ADOPT-A-BEACH

The Alliance for the Great Lakes helps people find and host beach cleanups through its Adopt-A-Beach program.

Around 15,000 volunteers help clean up beaches on all five Great Lakes each year, Alliance for the Great Lakes Volunteer Engagement Manager Juliann Krupa said.

She said groups get together to remove litter while collecting data on what they clean up.

“What they find that comes back to the Alliance for the Great Lakes and gets entered into our database, which shows a really holistic picture of Great Lakes coastal liter across the whole region,” Krupa said.

About 85% to 90% of the litter volunteers collect is plastic, she said.

This year, the goal is to reach half a million pounds of collected litter, Krupa said.

“That’s a really significant amount of plastic pollution that’s been kept out of the Great Lakes and out of our drinking water,” she said. “But more so that number — and the Adopt-A-Beach program in general — just shines a spotlight on the scope and magnitude of the plastics pollution problem and encourages people to get involved in other ways around this issue.”

Spring kickoff will start on Earth Day on April 22 and will go through April 24. The alliance hopes to have a couple hundred cleanups across the region.

Krupa offered her thanks to the volunteers.

“I just want to send a big, thank you to all of our Adopt-A-Beach volunteers. They’re going to be out on the beaches this Earth Day weekend and throughout the whole summer,” Krupa said. “The program really survives on the commitment of people in their communities getting involved to host these cleanups, so just wanted to send a big thank you to all of our current and all of our future volunteers. Hope you can get involved.”

To host or sign up for a cleanup, go to adopt.greatlakes.org. Alliance for the Great Lakes also offers curriculum for teachers who would like to do a cleanup with their students.