Pandemic prompts long walks, trash talk and sometimes cleaner beaches

Street Stories

PORTSMOUTH, R.I. (WPRI) ─ For Brian Patterson, trash talk is nothing new.

The Portsmouth resident learned at an early age to keep beaches clean and he has passed that lesson onto his children.

“Little by little these pieces are going to break off and go into the ocean,” Patterson tells his son Bryce as he picks up aluminum foil jammed under a rock near the water.

COVID-19 tragically took away friends and relatives, including Patterson’s great grandmother, but it also gave he and his sons more time to comb the beach.

“Hopefully she’s looking down and proud of what we’re doing,” Patterson said. “There’s just more opportunity to get outside. That whole idea of stopping to smell the roses. Now, we’re stopping to pick up bottles.”

Not too far away, Jennifer Haga started taking long walks after COVID-19 shut down her gym.

“I was shocked and saddened by the amount of litter I saw,” Haga said.

So she decided to bring a bag with her to collect what others left behind.

“It wasn’t my trash and at first I wondered what people thought of me picking it up,” Haga said. “But I got over it.”

Now she picks up about a bag per walk and could probably grab more if she could carry it all.

“I do have those moments when I just shake my head and ask, ‘What’s going on in someone’s mind when they would toss a plastic container out the window?'” Haga said.

Back by the water, Bryce says, “Hey dad, there’s some junk over here.”

“Go ahead and grab it,” his dad tells him.

Bottles, rope, lobster traps, tires, a shotgun shell and plenty of fishing line are all part of the haul.

“People just throw this off the side of the boat and it doesn’t decompose,” Patterson tells his son. “It just gets tangled in all the weeds.”

Sometimes sea creatures mistake the nylon line for food.

“It can cause animals to feel sick,” Bryce points out. “I just like doing it because it’s caring for the environment.”

Patterson admits the fact that someone would litter is frustrating.

“You show up to pristine beach but you’re also leaving garbage behind. I just don’t get what gets behind someone’s mind like that,” he said. “I admit it makes me angry.”

But anger and frustration aside, Patterson and Haga share a goal to convince the litterers to stop and others to help even if they didn’t leave the trash behind.

“Nobody else was cleaning it up so if I wanted it cleaned up, I was going to have to clean up myself,” Haga said. “And now I’m trying to get others to help.”

“The garbage wasn’t born here so if you put it there you should be taking it back,” Patterson added.

Email Walt at with your story ideas and follow us on Twitter: @StreetStories12 and @wbuteau.

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