Investigating Rhode Island town beaches litter policies

Sara Benson, University of Rhode Island


Marine litter in coastal areas creates environmental, social and aesthetic problems. Environmental effects of marine debris include choking animals, entanglement of marine mammals and killing marine life through the leaching of chemicals. Marine debris can negatively impact humans and the economies of coastal communities. The issues pertaining to marine debris are so expansive it is difficult to assess where to start mitigating the issue. Focusing on beaches is a small, yet significant start to solving the overall marine debris issue. Many turn to beach or ocean cleanups; however, controlling litter before it enters the marine environment will be more effective than trying to clean it up once it has already been introduced into the ocean. This study investigated the different trash policies in Rhode Island, such as Carry In/Carry Out or providing trash receptacles, to understand the perceived advantages and disadvantages of different management practices. During the summer and early fall of 2016, data was collected using flexible semi-structured interviews with twelve town beach managers and two state beach managers in Rhode Island. A total of 21 town beaches and seven state beaches were involved in the study. Managers chose to implement different policies based on factors such as expectations for visitors leaving litter, cost of disposal, an obligation to provide amenities, and aesthetics. Both policies share similar issues such as visitors leaving litter, litter left after closing, residents complaining, and the need for tractor rakes to clean litter from beaches. When it comes to managing marine debris, either policy would suffice. Beaches are noticing issues that stretch beyond management issues. From this study, it is clear there is a need for stronger education, human behavioral studies, better signage, and if trash receptacles are being used, better management practices. Human behavioral studies, such as those consistent with Community-Based Social Marketing, are the most crucial recommendation from this study.

Subject Area

Environmental management

Recommended Citation

Sara Benson, "Investigating Rhode Island town beaches litter policies" (2017). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI10268659.