Ocean City Today

Beach cleaners see buried glass bottles as rising issue

Public Works has ‘seen it all’ during nightly garbage collection on resort’s beach
By Katie Tabeling | Aug 10, 2017
Photo by: Josh Davis

(Aug. 11, 2017) The Ocean City Council and volunteer groups are tackling trash from cigarette butts to paper plates on the beach but the staff that drives the beach sweepers say that glass buried under the sand is becoming a bigger problem.

“Over the last three years, we’ve been finding more alcohol bottles and glass, and it’s getting worse each year,” said Public Works Deputy Director John VanFossen. “With a paper cup or a plate, our beach sanitizers gets it easily. But they’ll bury the bottles under the surface of the sand and someone could step on it.”

Every night starting around 9 p.m., roughly six Public Works employees get to work cleaning the beach. Leading the charge is the “Beast from the East,” a hydraulic trash truck designed to go on the beach and collect trash from the 800 barrels without stopping. Two hours later, five beach sweeper tractors, side by side, start cleaning up the litter from the day before.

“We start at the end of the pier, do the entire area next to the inlet lot and then head north along the surf line. We start at the high-water marks and go all the way to Delaware,” said crew leader Fred Wimbrow. “Then they come back south along the dune line in about 10 block increments.”

Different models of beach cleaning equipment are employed depending on the weather and sand moisture. Some use sand rakes that work best with wet sand and collects large pieces of debris, while others use sifters that collect small trash pieces.

But with buried glass bottles, the beach sweepers often don’t catch it until they run it over and smash it up.

“It’s transparent, so we usually don’t see it,” Wimbrow said.

“It’s not a beer or soda bottles we’re seeing people take out there,” VanFossen added. “We’re finding wine bottles and other containers. Some end up in the trash barrels, where we get it and others say, ‘why should I walk 20 yards over there to throw it away?’”

The amount of trash collected depends on the day of the week or the month, such as July versus June.

On a slow day like Wednesdays, the beach sweeper tractors’ 10-cubic-yard container may not be filled during a shift. Saturdays could require having to dump those boxes into off-site containers two or three times a night.

“Fourth of July is the single worse day,” Wimbrow said. “We might need to make six to eight dumps, because there’s tens of thousands of people out there. This year we saw a lot of fireworks out there.”

These weren’t firecrackers left on the sand, but large rockets that could “hurt someone if they stood too close,” VanFossen said.

With every other summer day in Ocean City, Public Works employees have seen it all excavated from the sands.

“Paper plates, paper cups, beer bottles, pizza boxes, diapers,” Maintenance Manager Tom Dy listed among the things he’s found.  “There’s broken chairs, tents, shoes, clothes, coolers left behind as well.”

Abandoned or broken items left on the beach is “beach debris” among the Public Works staff. If the beach sweeping equipment isn’t capable of picking it up, three works and another tractor is sent out with a flatbed trailer. Those workers grab the items as the tractors drives up to the Delaware line.

After the beach sweepers finish the job, the trash goes to the Public Works headquarters on 65th Street. Metal items like tents and chairs are recycled, but other trash, like Ocean City’s household trash, is incinerated by Corvanta Energy in Pennsylvania.

In Wimbrow’s and Dy’s eyes, there’s been few complaints because they and the other employees work as if they’re invisible.

“People go to bed; the beach is dirty. People wake up; the beach is clean and they have no idea how that happened,” Wimbrow said. “Sometimes we get a call about not going to a spot. We don’t bypass anyone … we just don’t know what happens after we take care of it.”

“There’s a lot of work going into keeping the beach clean that no one thinks about,” Dy said.


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