Scouring the sand: Volunteers remove 168 pounds of trash in sixth annual Keep Tahoe Blue Labor Day Cleanup

by the numbers

Total litter collected: 168 pounds

Single-use plastics collected: 2,751 pieces

Cigarette butts collected: 1,997

Volunteers: 65

cleanups since 2014

Total litter collected: nearly 35,000 pounds

Single-use plastics collected: More than 125,000 pieces

Cigarette butts collected: More than 110,0000

Volunteers: More than 5,000

*Does not include 2019 Labor Day cleanup

Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer for many, bringing thousands of visitors to the basin for a final weekend on Big Blue.

The holiday weekend and events like it throughout the year, however, take a heavy toll on Lake Tahoe’s beaches.

On Monday morning, 65 volunteers showed up to lessen the impact to the lake, removing more than 4,700 pieces of single-use plastic and cigarette butts at Kings Beach as part of the sixth annual Keep Tahoe Blue Labor Day Beach Cleanup.

In total, volunteers at the League to Save Lake Tahoe event, held in partnership with Arcade Belts Co. and California State Parks, removed 168 pounds of trash, including 1,997 cigarette butts and 2,751 pieces of single-use plastic.

“Plastics are the top trash that we find. They don’t biodegrade. They break down to smaller and smaller pieces in the sun, and they are very toxic in this state and look like food to wildlife.”— Marilee MoviusLeague to Save Lake Tahoe

While a portion of the trash was left over from the holiday weekend, according to Marilee Movius, community engagement manager for the League to Save Lake Tahoe, older, small plastic pieces, which have been degraded by many days out in the sun, accounted for a significant amount of what was collected.

“A lot of the trash that we find is after the Labor Day weekend, but we find so much microtrash,” said Movius.

“Plastics are the top trash that we find. They don’t biodegrade. They break down to smaller and smaller pieces in the sun, and they are very toxic in this state and look like food to wildlife. So, it’s very important that we pick up this microtrash because it is the most toxic state that plastics can be in.”


In past years the annual Labor Day cleanups have been held at Lakeside Beach, Nevada Beach, and Commons Beach. This is the first year the league has held the event at Kings Beach.

“When choosing the Labor Day cleanup sights, we have looked at where there’s a lot of festivities, including firework shows or an event that’s gathering a lot of people,” said Movius. “We want to help land managers with any influx of litter that may be present after a hosted event.”

Since the League to Save Lake Tahoe began hosting beach cleanups in 2014, more than 5,000 volunteers have removed nearly 35,000 pounds of trash, including more than 125,000 large and small plastic pieces and 110,000 cigarette butts (not including this past Labor Day cleanup).

“We use this data that we collect for solutions,” said Movius. “The cigarette canister program that has been launched this year is one solution in which we can remove the top trash found in Tahoe and have them properly disposed of.”

At Sand Harbor, the League to Save Lake Tahoe recently emptied nine cigarette butt disposal canisters to assess how they’ve been working after being installed a month prior. The team found 2,420 cigarette butts inside the containers. In total, 250 cigarette canisters will be installed around the lake by the league, in partnership with the Tahoe Water Suppliers Association. Other initiatives that data from beach cleanups has helped support have been the plastic bag bans and polystyrene bans in South Lake Tahoe.

“It’s really great to see how data can be used for solutions that are even more overarching than cleanups,” said Movius.


Monday’s Labor Day Cleanup also featured the official launch of the Tahoe Blue Crew program, which empowers and supports individuals, groups, and organizations in adopting a Lake Tahoe beach. Blue Crew leaders are then responsible for organizing cleanups at the sites throughout the year. The program had a soft launch last September, and officially launched at the Labor Day cleanup with five new crew leaders ready to adopt areas around Tahoe.

“We armed them with materials, signed them up, and gave them their welcome kit with cleanup supplies,” said Movius. “The next step will be to meet them at their adopted site and make sure that they are ready to go. Some of them will be individuals and some of them will be groups.”

Areas that have been adopted by Blue Crew leaders include Chimney Beach, Timber Cover, Cove East, the area around Regan Beach, and Zephyr Shoals.

Moving forward, the League to Save Lake Tahoe will next host the Tahoe Forest Stewardship Day, which will run in conjunction with the Great Sierra River Cleanup, on Saturday, Sept. 21. The event will be one of the first volunteer restoration projects at the Tahoe Resource Conservation District’s recently acquired Johnson Meadow in South Lake Tahoe.

Volunteers will be planting willow stakes, removing fencing, picking up litter, maintaining trails, and removing invasive weeds. The event will run from 8:30 to 12:30 p.m. and includes a lunch celebration for volunteers.

For more information or to sign up visit

Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at

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