Delaware Coastal Cleanup celebrates 30 years

Annual volunteer event returns Sept. 16
August 23, 2017

Donna Sharp had just started her first full-time state job when she was looking for a way to get the public more involved in Delaware's natural wonders.

It was 1987, and a beach cleanup program in Oregon caught her attention. She thought maybe Delaware could give it a go.

That first year, about 300 volunteers showed up and collected 3,400 pounds of trash.

“Boy, was I happy to report that back to my boss,” Sharp said at a press conference at Slaughter Beach Aug. 11.

Since then, more than 50,000 volunteers have participated in Delaware Coastal Cleanup, collecting more than 600,000 pounds of trash in total. That includes everything from plastic bags and car tires to a bathtub and refrigerator, all found along Delaware's ocean and bay beaches.

“With a little coordination, and a lot of enthusiasm, we were set,” Sharp said. “I think Delawareans have a lot to be proud of.”

Sharp still works for the state, but no longer coordinates the program, which is touted as the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control's largest single-day volunteer event of the year.

Last year, nearly 1,600 volunteers collected 12,000 pounds of trash along 75 miles of coastline, waterways and wetlands.

DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin said he hopes this year's event is a smaller haul, but for a good reason.

“Hopefully we'll collect less than six tons because there's less trash out there to collect,” he said. Despite how clean Delaware's beaches may seem, there's a surprising amount of litter to be found in pristine places. Volunteers actually collected such a variety of items in 1993 that one state staffer built a starter home from their finds.

“What do a bowling ball, vampire teeth, a wedding dress and a lawn mower have in common?” Garvin asked the crowd gathered to celebrate the program's 30th anniversary. “They were found as part of the Coastal Cleanup.”

The cleanup, which will return this year from 9 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Sept. 16, covers 45 sites statewide. DNREC sponsors and organizes the event, which is part of the Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup. For more, go to

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter