PLUM ISLAND — If you've been to the beach or even walked Plum Island over the last month, perhaps you've noticed that things are a bit tidier.
Thanks to an initiative of the Plum Island Foundation and the efforts of local residents Max Handler and Joe Rolfe, more trash is being disposed of properly instead of littering the beach and the island.
"To keep the area clean, we have established this clean-the-beach program, funding people to sweep the beach and get trash into the recently installed receptacles," said Marc Sarkady, president of the Plum Island Foundation. "We also are promoting a clean-up-your-own-trash program to encourage the responsible behavior of all beachgoers."
In mid-July, the foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting Plum Island's beaches and waterways and ensuring public access and enjoyment, paid for the installation of two, 2-cubic-yard trash bins, one at the former Jeannie's restaurant in Plum Island center and one below blue, The Inn on the Beach on Fordham Way.
Handler and Rolfe, meanwhile, have been taking to the beach and adjacent streets two to three times a week to pick up trash. They said the 10 to 15 hours a week they each have dedicated to the task as volunteers seems to have paid off.
"Since we started, I definitely see that the beach is cleaner, and along the way, I have met a lot of people who respected me for doing this job," said Handler, who lives in Newburyport and works at Plum Island Grille. "The bins have really helped, too. There were very few places to dump trash before that."
Handler, who grew up visiting the beach, said he was looking for opportunities to give back when Mark Friery, a co-worker at Plum Island Grille and board member for the foundation, suggested the trash cleanup job.
"There's always going to be trash on the beach. We just have to be better at cleaning it up, and if our doing this encourages others to grab a plastic bag and clean up the beach when they visit, that's a great thing," Hand-ler said.
Rolfe, a Newbury resident for more than 20 years, said when he learned of the trash cleanup efforts, he wanted to help, as well. He said he had been seeing a lot of trash, like broken bottles, that could ruin a day on the beach and wanted to maybe save someone from getting stitches.
"I was noticing more and more trash on the beach, and since part of my job as an assistant harbormaster in town is to keep the area near the Newbury town ramp cleaned up, I figured why not help out a little more?" Rolfe said.
Some of the interesting finds Rolfe has made on his trash pickup circuits include $2.50 that was left behind with a pile of empty beer cans and a microwave.
"I'm pretty sure that microwave wasn't beach trash," Rolfe said, laughing.
Hooks Johnston, one of the Plum Island Foundation's four board members, said the group has been receiving positive feedback on its trash efforts from most beachgoers and residents, as well as Newburyport Department of Public Works director Tim Leonard, who was forced to stop providing trash receptacles at the beach because of town budget constraints.
"We are happy with the results of our cleanup efforts thus far and hope to maintain services through September, which is pending board approval at our next meeting," Johnston said.
However, one change will be made. The trash bin by blue, the inn, will be removed in the coming days.
"There has been some concern about the bin causing traffic issues, as well as concern about emergency vehicle access there with the bin in place," he said.
Johnston also said the bin near blue collected a large quantity of household trash, which was not its intended purpose. When they installed the bins, foundation members strongly discouraged their use for household trash.
For now, the bin at the former Jeannie's will remain in place, and Northside Carting will continue its weekly pickups.
While Handler will soon return to the University of Virginia to further pursue his studies in aerospace engineering, Rolfe is committed to continue picking up trash and keeping the beach clean through the winter.
"This is a nice job to do," Rolfe said. "It is calming and relaxing to listen to the surf and talk with people who are appreciative of the job we are doing."
For more information about the program or to volunteer with the cleanup effort, contact Plum Island Foundation board member Hooks Johnston at email@example.com. Donations to support the effort are also appreciated. They should be mailed to Plum Island Foundation, P.O. Box 226, Newburyport 01950.