Our View: Keeping Cape Cod Clean

Topics: Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge , Boating , Tourism , Chatham , Environment , Harwich , Recycling and Solid Waste , Beaches , Recreation

A mylar balloon is embedded in the sand at the Monomoy Wildlife Refuge. 

A visit to Monomoy Island reveals a stunning landscape rich with wild birds, swaying beach grass, and miles of soft sand. But to call it “pristine” would be an exaggeration. To know why, all one has to do is look among the grasses and seashells anywhere on the beach. You'll find a wealth of trash.

Some people might say, 'So what?' and chalk it up to modern life. But on the island, and off, trash has become a huge problem on Cape Cod. One seemingly can't walk anywhere – beach or bike path – without passing by plastic bags, fast food containers, and an apparently endless supply of those tiny nip bottles.

The problem isn't just that such discarded junk is unsightly; it also poses a threat to area wildlife, especially sea creatures that mistake the plastic garbage that blows off boats (or worse, gets tossed overboard) for food and end up dying from bellies full of bits they can't digest.

Bag handles get wrapped around necks and fins. Balloons get stuck in throats of animals and birds that mistake them for jellyfish. Straws go up the noses of sea turtles, suffocating them.

Let's not omit the economic impact of trash. A resort community that makes its living from hospitality businesses and the sale of vacation homes can't afford to spoil the very natural beauty that attracts people and powers our economic engine.

When it comes to waste, we have no one to blame but ourselves. It's high time we did something about the massive mess we're making. Got a boat? Put a trash bin on it with a secure lid so that cans and cartons can get tossed inside rather than into the water. Visiting the beach? Bring an extra bag in which you can put all your trash so it doesn't end up in the sand. Traversing the Rail Trail or taking a hike in the woods? If you can carry it in, you can carry it out.

This doesn't just go for tourists. Those of us who call this place home on a year-round basis also bear the responsibility of keeping this unique venue a place of beauty. It really does come down to the old catchphrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” By cutting back on the amount of plastic we use, and ensure what we do use gets properly recycled or disposed of, we can all make the Cape – and the world – a better place.