Filmmaker and photographer Bryan Downey does daily beach cleanups, so when he saw the litter along Long Beach Road, he leapt into action.
With local realtor Michael Daly, the pair picked up over 1000 tissues, 300 coffee cups, cans, bottles, and food wrappers, but also hundreds of wipes, 110 pairs of latex gloves, and 50 masks down the two-mile stretch. They saw plenty on Noyac Road too, which could be surrounded by four or five times more garbage being that it spans eight miles.
“Since this COVID-19 scare I have noticed tons of excess trash on the sides of the roads,” Downey said. “This took three days in all to collect, and I was shocked to see the items thrown from car windows while doing it.”
Wildlife photographer and rescue expert Dell Cullum knows this behavior has existed for a long time.
“I’ve been seeing this disrespectful behavior growing over the past 10 years,” he said. “People just don’t care. They don’t care for our beaches, our roadsides, common driving courtesies and traffic laws, rules and regulations of any kind, each other, and in some cases, they don’t even care for themselves.”
Cullum doesn’t know how to solve the problem or gain control.
“I was working on it for many years,” he said. “If we focus on getting folks to stop littering all items collectively, maybe we wouldn’t have to wait 200 years before we see an actual difference.”
Southampton was one of the first municipalities to ban plastic bags, straws, and to-go or “clamshell-style” Styrofoam containers. The town is also looking at banning the sale of plastic and mylar balloons.
Cullum said he grew irritated after seeing a post on social media with a balloon that read: “Number one killer of marine mammals.”
“There is your problem: misinformation and lack of education,” he said. “People are the number one killers of marine mammals, not balloons. Balloons are only harmful when humans aren’t smart enough to dispose of them properly, just like most trash.”
Downey said he wrote to various town department heads and until April 17 heard nothing. He was also shocked when he went to the town recycling center to dispose of the materials and was told he’d have to pay.
“I have written to the leaders of Southampton, parks and recreation, the sanitation department ten times telling them they have to act before holiday-makers go elsewhere to vacation,” Downey said. “I never got one reply. Not one. This is going to effect the people that own houses here.”
Southampton Town Councilman John Bouvier said he doesn’t think the novel coronavirus has impacted the beaches too drastically.
“Thankfully we haven’t really had issues with masks and gloves at beaches other than a handful here and there,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a spot where people feel the need to wear them because they are outdoors and can stay socially distant.”
He said the new personal protective equipment mandate by Governor Andrew Cuomo may change that.
“We have tried several methods to encourage residents to be responsible in disposing of waste, particularly plastics, and while it has been tried before, including compactor-type disposals on-site, I think a special waste receptacle for plastics is warranted,” Bouvier said. “We have been talking internally about that.”
He said while several initiatives have been placed on hold as the town navigates the current crisis, the idea has been passed to Parks Director Kristen Doulos and Director of Municipal Works Christine Fetten.
“By far the biggest challenge we have at our beaches and other areas is the discarding of household garbage, particularly during summer months,” Bouvier said. “It is a difficult thing to enforce, but we have been installing cameras in areas and have found some repeat offenders and, with evidence, we can prosecute them.”
Downey heard from the parks department April 17 and met with town Parks Maintenance Supervisor Jonathan Erwin April 18 as a result of Bouvier passing the message along. Downey suggested recycle areas as most East End visitors that use the beach are from New York City, where these types of receptacles already exist.
“This just cannot go on. There’s no excuse,” Downey said. “The total disregard for other people’s safety is overwhelmingly sad.”