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As the weather warms up and the days grow longer, many people are planning their spring break getaways. For many, this means going to small-town beaches and enjoying a week off from their hectic college schedules. As for tourist destinations, spring break can be particularly exciting and busy as students flock in from across the country to enjoy what the towns have to offer, as well as contributing to the town economically. However, is all this vacationing healthy for the environment? 

As someone who works at an ice cream shop on the beach, I’ve seen firsthand how dirty and polluted the beaches can get when spring break rolls around. The biggest culprits are cigarettes littered on the sand, along with empty bottles and old food wrappers. 

My coworkers and I have had to clean up after customers when they leave their cups and food out because if not, it could blow down the road into the water or a seagull will pick it up instead. It’s a tedious task that gets old quickly after having to pick up your 50th used napkin of the day. Due to the influx of tourism during spring break, this garbage pickup becomes unmanageable. 

According to ProjectKnow, 40% of college students travel to coastal states to spend time at the beach for spring break, and these students spend over $1 billion annually on these vacations, including the drinks that are left behind as litter on the beach. 

For our North Carolina beaches, spring break tourism isn’t as extreme, but the pollution is still noticeable. Dolphins and seagulls have been wrapped in plastics like soda can rings and plastic bags, and microplastics have even been detected in plankton, who sit at the very bottom of the food chain. 

Thankfully, North Carolina government officials recognize this problem and have implemented policies to stop littering. Even though these littering policies are not officially related to spring break pollution, it is still a good sign from legislators.

In towns like Topsail Beach, North Carolina, Blue Tubes, trash cans made out of recycled plastic, are now placed at the entrance of every public access on the beach. And in Wilmington, the development of a program called Ocean Friendly Establishments has now been implemented by more than 100 businesses along our coast. Businesses in this program commit to banning single-use plastics, providing proper recycling for customers and composting discarded food.

According to EcoPartners, approximately 50 billion pieces of litter are showing up on roadways or in waterways. So, even with these great innovations and programs in place to remind tourists of the dangers of littering, we must remember to be environmentally conscious on our vacations. A small act made by someone can have a huge impact on the environment for days or even years to come. So remember, if you brought something to the beach, take it back with you when you leave!

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