The month of July is upon us, and along with the certainty of long summer days and warmer weather for enjoying our outdoor adventures comes the celebration of Independence Day. What is considered the most patriotic of holidays is well known for family barbecues with fresh corn on the cob and watermelon. Another 4th of July signature is the widespread use of fireworks. As much fun as fireworks can be, there is an often unseen impact from debris on our beloved beaches.

On the Washington coast thousands of people flock to our beaches and bring fireworks with them, many of which are illegal. Due to the ample sand and proximity to the ocean it is considered a relatively safe place to light fireworks. However, once the fuse is lit and the firework launches into the air a strange thing happens – there is little to no responsibility to retrieve the debris.

Surfrider volunteer Jean Olson picks up firework debris that has already been moved by the tide and waves.

Despite what you might think, the projectile is not fully combusted when it explodes in a flash of color. The casing, which is often made from plastic and/or cardboard falls back to earth. Some of this debris lands in dune grass and has caused multiple wildfires over the years. It may also land on the beach or in the ocean. And while that may be better from the perspective of fire risk, it contributes to the pervasive problem of marine debris. To make matter worse, many beach goers decide to leave their firework leftovers on the beach. It is a strange case of littering that is rarely, if ever, punished.

A dumpster full of debris generated by 4th of July activities.

Surfrider chapters in Washington have taken some action to address this problem in Westport. In addition to organizing beach cleanups on the 5th of July we have handed out trash bags at beach approaches. This has worked very well as many people simply forget to bring a bag to dispose of their waste. However, since it’s a popular holiday it is difficult to find volunteers that are willing to sacrifice their holiday standing on a dusty road handing out bags to strangers who often think you’re trying to sell them something. And most folks must return to work on the 5th so turnout for the beach cleanups have been low. In Pacific County a group of concerned citizens have developed a campaign called “Not a ban a better plan” which has made good progress on the Long Beach peninsula.

Handing out bags on the 4th of July at a beach approach in Westport.

The problem of firework debris is being incorporated into the upcoming Washington State Marine Debris Action Plan but many of those activities will likely take some time to implement. In the meantime, we urge you to be responsible if you choose to celebrate the independence of your nation by blowing up a small part of it. Carefully collect your debris and dispose of it properly, encourage your friends and family members to do the same, and, of course, stay safe.