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'Hey Piggy!' Sky Sign Urges Beachgoers to Clean Up After Themselves

By Katie Honan | July 5, 2017 10:45am
 The message, paid for by a local business owner, aims to encourage people to clean up on busy beaches.
The message, paid for by a local business owner, aims to encourage people to clean up on busy beaches.
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Grace Miller

ROCKAWAY BEACH — The small plane carrying a banner that circled above Rockaway Beach on July 4th wasn't advertising an upcoming concert or a summer beer — but it still had an important message for the audience below.

"Hey Piggy, Take Ur Trash W/ U! [heart] Poseidon," it read. 

The message — signed "Poseidon," the God of the sea in Greek mythology — addresses the constant problem that plagues beaches overrun with summer crowds: the overflow of garbage that spills out from garbage cans and ends up in the ocean.

The local business owner who funded the message in the sky said he was inspired after recent weekends have left the beaches trashed.

He asked the remain anonymous, saying he wanted to avoid blowback from the city or beachgoers. 

"What business would we have if you can't swim in a clean ocean?" he told DNAinfo, adding the garbage issue is "epidemic."

He signed it from Poseidon because he "needed to put a name to the face of who we are hurting," he said. 

"Shaming people is sometimes good incentive for action," he said — adding that it "was going to be much harsher but kids are in the beach too."

Trash is a city and Parks Department issue, but it's also a personal responsibility of people who come to the beach, he added.

"The air sign is costly, but buying 1,000 more garbage cans is more expensive, and with the message we hoped that it would make many hands make light work for the garbage detail."

Since Memorial Day, community activists have complained to the Parks Department for what they call inconsistent garbage pickups and a dearth of beach cleaners.

Local Facebook groups have been inundated with photos and posts blaming cleaning crews and the "DFDs," or "down for the day" beach visitors, for not cleaning up after themselves.

Residents have posted signs on the boardwalk reminding people to clean up, and have organized beach cleanups. 

But the trash problem persists and waste ends up in the ocean, neighbors said.

"When all the garbage is left on the beach, especially on an eroded beach, all that garbage during high tide is going into the ocean," activist John Cori said. 

Some sunbathers try to leave their trash in the garbage. But with infrequent pickups, the trash cans are full to overflowing by the end of a beach day — and ocean winds pick up the garbage and send it skittering.

The Parks Department should clear it out throughout the day to prevent the problem, Cori said.

A spokeswoman for the Parks Department said the bulk of the cleanup is done overnight, once the crowds have gone home.

"NYC Parks crews work very hard to keep the beach and boardwalk as clean as possible. On very hot days, when we can get upwards of 150,000 visitors, we cannot use vehicles on the beach so we must wait until crowds dissipate to do the bulk of our cleaning," spokeswoman Meghan Lalor wrote to DNAinfo.
"We have also identified locations at key entrances where we added and re-adjusted can placement to help capture more litter."

As for the Poseidon message, many who usually complain about the trash thought the sign was spot-on.

"Poseidon! Thank you!," Linda DeMayor Marchetti wrote in the Friends of Rockaway Beach Facebook page.

"I think that might have accomplished more than the Parks, community board, civic association and concerned people have accomplished in years," Thomas Volovar wrote.

"Well for the day anyway."