Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie International Coastal Cleanup

Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie International Coastal Cleanup

By Susan A. Smith, Lake Erie-Allegheny Earth Force

Gearing up for the September 18, 2004, International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) began after last year’s ICC ended. The ICC is part of an international study and is the oldest and largest volunteer project of its kind. This annual trash inventory and cleanup of the Lake Erie shoreline and streams leading to the lake involves the entire community and is spearheaded by a group of area volunteers. Last year over 600 local volunteers spent three hours collecting and documenting trash and came up with more than 42,000 pounds of litter and discarded items that had accumulated along Erie County shorelines.“We are focusing on prevention so that in years to come littering will be an unfamiliar concept, something that used to happen in the past,” said Lake Erie-Allegheny Earth Force Program Director and ICC Steering Committee member, Sr. Pat Lupo.

Starting in Texas in 1986, the ICC has now spread to all coastal states and over 100 countries. Volunteers itemize trash matter with the use of standardized data forms. The information that is gathered is used to determine trouble spots, litter habits, information about litter that could be recycled, and is being used to teach children and adults about watersheds and how to protect them.

It is not just a clean up but rather a data collection which spurs more in-depth projects and research used by colleges as a jumping-off point for their classes. Area middle school students used the cleanup data from the 2003 ICC to launch their Earth Force projects. Klein School 6th graders developed a Litter Patrol to educate other students about responsible waste disposal; Wattsburg Area Middle School students created an anti-litter video to persuade classmates to put waste where it belongs; and the Celebrate Erie event attendees recently saw students wearing sandwich boards promoting proper disposal of waste through recycling.

The ICC has received attention from small citizen organizations, watershed groups, businesses and a wide variety of stakeholders in the Lake Erie watershed. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Regional Director Kelly Burch, “Volunteers rallied around working in the watershed to protect Lake Erie through the ICC and inventoried more than 42,000 pounds of trash during the three-hour watershed cleanup. They documented the type and quantity of trash that is spoiling our shoreline and waterways.”The data was used to launch a public campaign with the goal of reducing litter and debris. “We believe education is one of the most effective ways to change habits,” Lake Erie-Allegheny Earth Force spokeswoman Susan A. Smith said. “After the 2003 ICC we held our first workshop for educators using information from the cleanup, and students are learning about what we found and how to combat litter through Earth Force projects.”

In the spring, the ICC Committee reached out to the entire community with a 16-page International Coastal Cleanup insert in the Erie Times-News reaching over 90,000 readers,” Newspapers in Education and Literacy Projects Coordinator Anna McCartney said. “We want to stimulate a community-wide dialogue about more creative ways to deal with waste. Cleanups aren’t truly effective tools in a pollution prevention campaign if they don’t go hand-in-hand with public education. It is education that leads more people to properly dispose of waste.” In addition, the information collected last year was used to develop televised public service announcements targeting the forms of litter that were most prevalent—cigarette butts, food wrappers and beverage containers. This is truly a community collaboration.

For more information, you can also visit Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie International Coastal Cleanup website at



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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
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