Lake Tahoe was transformed into a “landfill” Tuesday after Fourth of July partygoers left behind a record-breaking 4 tons of trash surrounding the massive freshwater basin.
Over 8,559 pounds of cigarette butts, plastic food wrappers, beach toys, beer boxes — and even barbecues — were collected Wednesday by environmental cleanup volunteers during the 10th annual July 5th “Keep Tahoe Red, White & Blue” Beach Cleanup.
It took 402 good Samaritans three hours to rake up the colossal piles of trash that the Keep Tahoe Blue collective said was “tragically an all-time high.”
“This morning, one of Tahoe’s beaches looked like a landfill. Thanks to passionate volunteers and community partners, it started to look like Tahoe again after some hard work,” Dr. Darcie Goodman Collins, CEO of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, said in a statement.
“To Keep Tahoe Blue, everyone who enjoys this place must act more like our volunteers and partners by doing their part. It starts with leaving nothing behind, and picking up any trash you come across. Unless each of us share in the responsibility for protecting this place, it could be ruined.”
A video the group posted to social media Wednesday shows piles of beach chairs, tents and plastic cups strewn across the beach and into natural vegetation.
Lake Tahoe geese were left with little clear beach to waddle across, forcing them to walk across the trash.
Though the groups plucked most of the trash from six popular beaches and parking lots, most of the garbage was collected from Zephyr Cove, an unmanaged stretch of beach on Tahoe’s east shore.
More than 6,300 pounds of waste — “the equivalent of a ¾ ton pickup truck” — was collected in the inlet alone, the group said.
“It was destroyed,” Clean Up The Lake founder Colin West told the San Francisco Chronicle, adding that the morning’s trash haul was the worst he had ever seen it in his five years of doing environmental clean-up work.
“I thought I’d come out and use a trash grabber, but I was bending over scooping with my hands, and we even went to get rakes.”
According to West, his group had to get permission from the forest service to drive trucks into the beach needed to store “towering loads” of trash bags filled to the brim.
The Keep Tahoe Blue collective — made up of various local environmental groups and individual volunteers — also relied on BEBOT, an electric, beach-cleaning robot that sifts the sand to remove tiny plastic bits and other trash.
It was the first time BEBOT was used for the annual July 5th cleanup and played a major role in strumming up trash from below the water at Zephyr Cove.
The silver lining, according to Keep Tahoe Blue, is that many of Lake Tahoe’s beaches were left relatively litter-free.
The ones comparatively untouched by the garbage mounts were supplied with trash cans, restrooms and management staff, proving that small preventative measures can lead to promising pollution prevention.
By Katherine Donlevy