3,450 pounds of trash removed from Tahoe beaches during cleanup event

Submitted to the Sun
Zephyr Shoals on July 5.
Provided/Forest Service

TAHOE CITY, Calif. — More than three hundred volunteers, an eight-person dive team, and one beach-cleaning robot spread out across five Lake Tahoe beaches Tuesday in a collaborative effort to remove leftovers from July Fourth celebrations, as part of the League to Save Lake Tahoe’s annual Keep Tahoe Red, White and Blue Beach Cleanup

In total, the litter-fighting teams removed 3,450 pounds of trash from the environment – litter that would have found its way into the lake’s blue waters if it wasn’t collected by event participants. 

After multiple dives offshore of Nevada Beach in recent years, Clean Up The Lake’s team of divers were pleased by how little trash they found there on Tuesday. In 2021, as part of the group’s 72-mile cleanup, they removed 468 pounds of garbage from the site. Today, they found only 45. That outcome is the result of hard work and a coordinated effort to protect Tahoe’s environment.  

“It’s great to see that Clean Up the Lake’s work underwater and Keep Tahoe Blue’s work on land is making it harder and harder for litter to enter the lake,” said Zac Smith, communication and outreach coordinator from Clean Up The Lake. “The impact is not just removing the trash that shouldn’t be there; it’s about driving awareness that we all can and must prevent litter before it gets into Lake Tahoe.” 

Every July 5 since 2014, residents and visitors have picked up litter left in the sand while tabulating data on what they find and how much of it during the League’s annual cleanup event. The long-term dataset assembled from volunteers’ tallies shows a trend away from large heavy trash (coolers, lawn chairs, floaties), and toward smaller and lighter litter items – and many, many more of them. This year alone, volunteers removed 2,500 cigarette butts and 4,260 bits of plastic. 

“Out of sight cannot be out of mind if we want to Keep Tahoe Blue,” said Jesse Patterson, chief strategy officer for the League to Save Lake Tahoe. “We need to use every tool in the toolbox to combat pollution on our beaches. Volunteers on land, divers in the water, and innovative technology like the BEBOT are all crucial components.” 

Small pieces of litter can be hard to detect, especially if they’re buried in the sand. The BEBOT, an all-electric, beach-cleaning robot was brought to Tahoe through a partnership between the League and ECO-CLEAN Solutions to see if it can catch what may be missed. At Nevada Beach, the robot and several volunteers were assigned similar-sized areas of sand to clean. Volunteers found and removed 30 small litter items, while the BEBOT – sifting through the top few inches of sand – found 300. There’s more litter in Tahoe than meets the eye, and both people and technology are part of the solution.

Not every site followed the trend of smaller litter. At Zephyr Shoals, one of the League’s Tahoe Blue Crews arrived Tuesday morning to find the beach blanketed in trash. In total, a team of eight volunteers gathered over 2,700 pounds of cans, shoes, towels, beach chairs, and other assorted waste in a herculean effort. 

“What we saw today shows we need to come together and put in some effort to Keep Tahoe Blue,” said Tahoe Blue Crew leader Jeff Cowen. “The League’s cleanups are a great opportunity for me to show my kids, our visitors, and our communities what’s important to us, and to shine a light on what’s going on.” Event partners were crucial to this year’s event: Northstar California Resort, California State Parks, Heavenly Mountain Resort, USFS Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, Kirkwood Mountain Resort, City of South Lake Tahoe, Bally’s Lake Tahoe Casino Resort, and California Land Management.

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