Stewardship of the Sand

The environmental impact of mechanical beachcleaning

By Judith Nelson
Cherrington Corporation

Having to tiptoe through the sand to avoid bottle caps, medical waste or insect-infested seaweed is, well, no day at the beach.

We can all agree that the recreational waters and beaches of the United States are a precious resource that must be vigilantly protected in order to preserve a safe, sustainable environment for human use and ecosystem maintenance.

This inland lake in Sleepy Eye, Minn., has the usual encroaching grass,
rotting seaweed and trash. It has also recently been plagued with
Canada geese and their resulting excrement. Mechanical beachcleaning
equipment picks up the sand, sifts out all the debris, and leaves the sand
clean, fluffed and exposed to the sun's purifying UV rays.

But our vigilance and care for our waterfronts must be constant.

Beach and water contamination occurs from two basic sources. "Corporate" or large-scale public pollution in the form of sewer runoff or poor farming practices can contaminate water and beaches with harmful bacteria and also promote the growth of excessive seaweed and algae that harm fish and other organisms and harbor lakeshore bacteria. Individual or "people" trash is the second major contributor to contamination and is not as benign or small scale as it sounds. Rotting garbage, cigarette butts, glass, drug needles and medical waste, plastic food wrappers, and bottle beverage carriers—all of these threaten the safety and well-being of other beachgoers and the overall environmental health of a beach area.

Another problem of increasing proportions is that posed by large amounts of bird droppings deposited by migratory or resident geese. This raises serious health issues, as the decomposing goose feces is mixed in with the sand of recreational surfaces.

Not a fun topic by any stretch, but one becoming more and more common at many parks.

Daryl Berg, director of parks and in charge of a small lake in Sleepy Eye, Minn., has had to handle this and other dangerous debris issues. He turned to sandsifting machines for an answer. With this mechanical cleaning, goose droppings and other trash is separated out of the sand, and the sand is left clean and aerated. Encroaching grass and shoreline debris is also removed with the bonus result of an attractive, useable beach.

While prevention is always the best solution, it is not always controllable. Beach entities that successfully manage their sand and water areas in an environmentally safe and sound way have found that a combination approach is necessary. Public and corporate awareness can help slow both types of pollution, while a responsible beach maintenance program can keep a beach safe and clean. Mechanical beachcleaning with a sifting machine can produce several major benefits including:

    The machine's hopper full of debris
  • Trash and debris that threaten both the public use of the area and native birds and wildlife are removed. The plastic that can choke birds, the rotting garbage that can poison wildlife, and the broken glass, drug needles and pop tops that can all cause injury—these are sifted out of the beach sand.

  • Debris such as cigarette butts and plastic bottles can be sifted out, while the sand is groomed and smoothed, producing an aesthetically pleasing beach. Interestingly, people are less likely to litter on a clean beach, so a preventive goal is also accomplished.

  • Piles of rotting seaweed along the edge of the water are removed, destroying breeding grounds for flies and other bacteria and preventing development of strong odors.

  • The water itself is protected when dangerous debris and contaminants are removed from the sand and shoreline.

  • A sifting machine lifts the sand, sifts out the debris and puts the sand back on the beach. Unlike raking or windrowing trash or debris, no precious sand is removed from the beach to end up in a landfill or dumpsite.

  • Because the sand is lifted and sifted, it is constantly being turned over and exposed to the sun's purifying UV rays. Dangerous bacteria are destroyed without the use of chemicals.

The use of mechanical sandsifting equipment has a major positive impact on effective stewardship of a beach environment. By removing dangerous and unsanitary contaminants, harmful to both man and beast, sand and water quality are improved, and the beach area can be preserved for safe usage by all forms of life.

Judith Nelson is operating manager at Cherrington Corporation. She can be reached at

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