One Piece at a Time

BEACH campaigns to stop plastic waste from destroying our shorelines and oceans.

In Kahuku, BEACH volunteers scour the shore for plastic litter.

Photo:  Rae Huo

It takes up to 1,000 years for a plastic bottle to physically break apart, but it will never be completely gone. After it has broken down, harmful chemicals are left behind in our oceans forever, as well as small plastic pieces. “I think this issue is even bigger than global warming,” says Suzanne Frazer, co-founder of Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii (BEACH), “because plastic never goes away; once it is in the ocean, there is no way to remove it.” 

In 2006, after realizing the need to clean the beaches of Hawaii, Frazer and Dean Otsuki founded BEACH, which works to tackle the problem of marine debris through beach cleanups, litter prevention campaigns, and environmental education in schools and in the community.

"It’s not until you stop using plastic that you realize that plastic is used for almost everything."

“We were walking along Waimanalo beach,” says Frazer of the day that inspired the founding of BEACH, “and I kept stopping to pick up plastic and other trash.

Finally I said to Dean, ‘We’re going to have to bring some trash bags down here to collect all of this.”

Frazer called the state and the military, trying to find out who was accountable for cleaning the beach. But neither group took responsibility; instead, each pointed a finger at the other. “So we decided to take responsibility,” says Frazer.

In November 2007, at Kamilo Beach, volunteers cleared more than 4 million particles of marine debris. “But it is impossible,” says Otsuki, “to collect all of the small, tiny pieces of plastic debris floating in our oceans and onto our beaches.” Thus, the litter prevention and educational component of BEACH’s mission is crucial.

Frazer and Otsuki host educational programs informing the interested about why keeping our oceans and beaches trash-free is important. For example, sea turtles love eating jellyfish, and when they see plastic bags floating in the ocean, they mistake the bags for their food source. The turtles can choke on the bag, or be killed by the physical ingestion of the plastic.

BEACH has pushed for antilitter laws, such as potentially banning plastic bags and Styrofoam, and the smoking ban on Big Island beaches. Of those three, only the smoking ban was passed, but the group remains determined.

Frazer encourages people to make small lifestyle changes that can curb plastic before it ends up in the ocean. “We have had to make these changes ourselves.  First, we brought our own reusable bags to the grocery store to carry home our groceries. Then we thought, ‘How are we going to line the cat’s litter box?’ After that I started noticing that the newspaper comes in a plastic bag, and lots of other items I use on a regular basis. It is not until you stop using plastic that you realize that plastic is used for almost everything.”

The plastic debris washing up on our shores comes from sources around the world. “We find plastics that have everything from Japanese characters on it to Spanish logos,” says Frazer.

But there has also been global help; the BBC did a radio special on BEACH, which lead to a few volunteers who hailed from the U.K. BEACH is run entirely on the energy of volunteers, and since its inception, more than 1,000 volunteers and 40 schools and community groups have come out to help.                                 

For Marine Debris Awareness Month in October, BEACH, in partnership with the Hanauma Bay Education Program, will be hosting free educational lectures at Hanauma Bay Thursdays at 6 p.m. For more information, visit