Non-profit catalogs 25,000 books. of underwater litter collected 72 miles from Lake Tahoe

Beach cleanups are a trendy thing that plastic companies can sponsor. Everyone likes to look at a clean beach, so problem solved! Hey, stay away from the water, and don’t look in the water. Watch out for this freshly cleaned beach!

Film producer Colin West has learned that, like an iceberg, the trash you see on a beach is only a tiny fraction of a larger trash collection underwater. He then founded Clean Up the Lake, a non-profit organization dedicated to collecting submerged trash in Lake Tahoe. West, a scuba diver, recruited volunteers and raised funds to hike the 72-mile perimeter of the lake. Logistics meant they couldn’t do the whole lake, but stuck to everything from the immediate shore to a maximum depth of 25 feet.

72 miles is nothing to sneeze at. It took West and his team of volunteers more than a year, and they just finished the job this month, hauling in 25,281 pounds of trash. Divers made trip after trip, bringing empty net bags back to their depth limit and rising to the surface when the bags were full.

All the trash was painstakingly sorted and located by GPS, creating data that scientists can analyze.

The types of waste found are telling. Besides what you’d expect – plastic wrappers, beer cans, sunglasses, broken boat parts, fishing gear – they also found condoms, tampons, fluorescent bulbs, tires, appliances electronics, construction waste, pallets, carpets, furniture, batteries. Notably, in a news interview, West declined to tell the camera what some of the more “interesting” items they found were. (I imagine weapons thrown away, or worse, related to ongoing murder investigations.)

If you are an ID student or researcher interested in the topic of the types of waste that end up in the water, I recommend downloading this report that Clean Up the Lake has prepared. See page 44 for a comprehensive list of waste by category.

For now, this 72-mile stretch of Lake Tahoe is pristine.

Then Clean Up the Lake will target other lakes to apply their process to. You can find out more, or donate and/or get involved yourself, here.