Michele Klimczak’s passion for cleaning the beaches of Fishers Island led to a full-time, year-round job, but she still can’t keep up with the flood of plastic waste.
In just three years, Michele Klimczak has picked, hauled, weighed, documented and sorted more than 32,000 pounds of garbage from the shores of Fishers Island, New York. She finds plastics stamped with product expiration dates going back two decades washed up all around the roughly four square mile stretch of land in the Long Island Sound.
For Michele, collecting marine garbage is literally a full-time job, one she holds with the Fishers Island Conservancy, a non-profit tasked with caring for the island’s natural resources. There is no off-season—her job is year-round, through rain, snow and heat, to counter a ballooning waste problem. She’s collected garbage on the island for about two decades, full-time since 2018.
But despite her long efforts, she’s only watched the problem grow.
“I’m a total optimist, but it never works out that way,” says Michele, the coastal debris coordinator for the conservancy. “I leave my truck with my bags and I’m thinking ‘I wonder if I’ll find anything today?,’ which is ridiculous.”
She says she’s never failed to fill her bag.
”But the next day I just have the same attitude—hoping I’m going to find less—but unfortunately that really hasn’t been the case.”
On Earth Day, Michele collected 62 pounds of trash over the span of roughly one-twentieth of a mile—a section she cleaned about a month earlier. A few volunteers helped that day, but she normally collects just as much single-handedly.
A few days later, I helped Michele collect about 100 pounds of trash on a beach further up the coast. We returned the very next day to the same stretch of sand and gathered nearly 150 pounds more. Even then, after hours of picking up garbage and with no space left in our bags, we left a lot behind.
“It’s so hard, it’s so hard [to stop] when you’re passing stuff and you’re like ‘there actually is no room left in these big sacks,’” Michele says. “It makes me nuts…”