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Environmental cleanups to be held Saturday across state, region

Water pollution isn’t just a coastal issue.

That’s the message from groups organizing events for International Coastal Cleanup Day, which is Saturday, Sept. 19. Though the annual initiative looks a little different this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the goal remains the same.

“This year we’re calling it the Connecticut Cleanup,” said Anthony Allen, ecological communications specialist for the environmental nonprofit group Save the Sound, which sponsors the initiative, according to a news release issued Wednesday. “We’re moving away from talking about this as something that just happens on the coast, because trash does travel. Everyone lives in a watershed, so it has a pathway to get to Long Island Sound.”

Even those who don’t live near a beach are invited to participate by picking up and documenting litter anywhere in the state on Saturday. Residents can join one of 21 official cleanups at specific locations — in southeastern Connecticut, events will be held at Rocky Neck State Park in East Lyme, Bluff Point State Park in Groton, Greens Harbor Beach and Ocean Beach Park in New London, White Sands in Old Lyme and DuBois Beach in Stonington — or instead opt to do a “virtual” cleanup near their home.

Organizers say these efforts “will contribute to keeping all our lands and waterways clean, including Long Island Sound,” the news release said.

“To participate in a virtual cleanup, just pick a location and decide to go on your own or with up to four others, with bags, gloves and wearing face masks,” the release said. Organizers urge participants to take photos of their efforts and share them on social media with the hashtags #CTCleanup2020, #TrashTravels and #DontTrashLISound. The latter is the name of the annual anti-litter campaign — sponsored by Connecticut Sea Grant, the Long Island Sound Study and other partners — that started in August and concludes Saturday. It included efforts to cut down on the use of plastics.

“In time, we hope we can reduce the amount of marine debris entering our waterways, making cleanups less necessary,” said Nancy Balcom, associate director of Connecticut Sea Grant. “That can start to happen if people employ their purchasing power to reject over-packaged products, reduce their use of single-use plastics and rely more on reusable items.”

Allen said that, due to pandemic concerns, the number of cleanups at specific locations has declined by half from last year, but more than 250 people already have registered to participate. To find a site and register or sign up for a virtual cleanup, visit savethesound.org/2020Cleanup.

Documenting the trash collected makes cleanup efforts most effective, Allen said. People are encouraged to download the CleanSwell mobile app from the Ocean Conservancy and use it to record how many plastic bags, disposable water bottles, cigarette butts and other trash they find. A new category this year, he noted, is personal protective equipment, including masks and disposable gloves.

“This data is critically important for us in a lot of the advocacy work we do, not just for the shock and awe factor,” he said in the news release. “Being able to track various kinds of trash is important to helping enact legislation, like the plastic bag fee.”

Volunteers also are urged to be especially vigilant about collecting all types of plastic, even tiny shards, because the materials break down into microplastics that can harm wildlife.

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