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On the Oregon coast, the July 5 hangover leaves biggest beach headache of the year

An overflowing trash can on the beach. Debris lies on all sides of the can.
Surfrider Foundation
Barrels placed on the beach by the Surfrider Foundation to collect July 4 fireworks are quickly filled to overflowing each year.

This story originally appeared on YachatsNews.com and is used with permission.

The spectacle of bombs bursting in air is a staple of Fourth of July fireworks celebrations across the country, and this year will be no exception.

Along Oregon’s coast alone, no fewer than a dozen nighttime aerial displays will thrill and awe tens of thousands of residents and visitors, many of whom also bring their own displays to launch into the air.

However, the show hardly stops there.

All of those bombastic blasts leave literally tons of plastic and paper debris, along with chemical-soaked fireworks materials strewn everywhere from coastal parking lots to driveways to the beaches themselves – where, it should be added, fireworks are prohibited altogether.

All those people and their fireworks leads to the most significant single-day contribution of litter and marine debris on Oregon’s beaches. The Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection of oceans and beaches, even has a name for the detritus of the July Fourth holiday — the “Dirtiest Beach Day of the Year.”

“The amount of firework and plastic debris left over from the holiday celebrations is mind blowing,” said Jennie Warmack, Surfrider’s marine debris coordinator for Lincoln County. “Most people just have no idea.”

Well, starting the day after July 4, everyone who wants to participate in the Surfrider-led Freedom from Marine Debris Project will get their chance to find out.

In Lincoln County, for instance, clean-up efforts at five sites, including Yachats and Newport, will get underway July 5. Then, volunteers crews, guided by team captains, will gather again Sunday, July 7 in an effort to ensure that everything that can be plucked up from the sand and rocks has been retrieved and disposed of.

“It’s always a little heart-breaking to see all that trash out there,” Warmack said. “But there’s a true community effort that takes place that helps our oceans stay cleaner and definitely helps raise spirits after the shock of all that mess.”

Buckets filled with fireworks debris.
Surfrider Foundation
The Lincoln County chapter of the Surfrider Foundation is organizing beach cleanups July 5 and asking people to bring buckets to pick up debris.

Clean-up volunteers, who can sign up online, should bring gloves, a bucket and a trash-picker, said Kaia Hazard, Surfrider’s Oregon regional manager. If people lack that equipment, they can get it from organizers at each pickup location.

For years, the Newport chapter of the Surfrider Foundation has led the charge to sweep debris up from central coast beaches. This year, the effort has expanded considerably, thanks to the support of SOLVE, local municipalities and businesses and a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s marine debris program, Hazard said.

The NOAA grant, in particular, she said, has been helpful in increasing education and outreach efforts, as well as making proper disposal more accessible.

Yachats, for instance, will be the site of one of five colorfully painted, 55-gallon “beach barrels.” The barrels will be out from July 1- 8, with the Yachats barrel along Yachats Ocean Road.

If past efforts are any indication, the clean ups will go a long way toward returning area beaches to their pre-July 4 condition.

Last year, for instance, 30 beach clean ups organized by Surfrider collected more than 100,000 pounds of trash, Hazard said. In Oregon alone, about 100 volunteers from four Surfrider chapters working at seven different beaches gathered over 1,000 pounds of trash.

“But with so many miles of beaches in Oregon,” Hazard said, “there are just so many places we can’t get to.”

The rules and enforcement

Local law enforcement also has a big role to play in trying to reduce illegal fireworks use since fireworks are prohibited on all national forestland, in all Oregon state parks and on all beaches. While Oregon beaches are under the control of Oregon State Parks, it is all but impossible to patrol the long stretch of beaches that are outside of regular campgrounds.

A sign that says "Oregon State Parks. Please remember. Fireworks are prohibited."
Quinton Smith
Yachats News
Oregon State Parks and Recreation puts up signs on all its beach-access properties reminding people that fireworks are prohibited on all Oregon beaches and in state parks.

“Some towns and campgrounds have already started cracking down more, which has led to a big reduction in fireworks use in those areas,” Hazard said. “The problem is that, as word has gotten out, people who want to use illegal fireworks are just shifting to places that aren’t getting the enforcement attention. It’s a problem.”

State law prohibits the possession, use or sale of any firework that flies into the air, explodes or travels more than 12 feet horizontally on the ground. Fireworks that fly high into the air such as mortars and bottle rockets are illegal in the state without a permit, according to the Oregon State Fire Marshal.

If in doubt, authorities say, just don’t buy any firework that isn’t available from licensed local vendors. Many coastal cities – including Yachats and Waldport – have gone as far as prohibited the sale or use of fireworks that are otherwise legal elsewhere in the state.

A Lincoln County sheriff’s sergeant found out first-hand last year that items not meeting that standard are plentiful on the Fourth.

“Last year I confiscated a whole lot of fireworks,” Sgt. Nicholas Vaille told YachatsNews. Pressed as to how many that amounted to he added: “They filled my patrol car.”

Additional sheriff, police and fire patrols are generally added for the holiday, since past records show that more than 100 reports of illegal fireworks use, including on beaches, pour in on each of the three days that make up the July 4 holiday.

“People are generally very kind and understanding when we tell them what they are doing isn’t allowed,” Vaille said. “We certainly hope we get more of the same this year.”

Dana Tims is an Oregon freelance writer who contributes regularly to YachatsNews.com.