Talking Trash- No Ifs, Ands, or Butts
July 2019 Issue
by Cynthia Robinson
Photography by Mike Force Photography
While Georgia has only 100 miles of coastline, the state has one third of the salt marshes along the entire U.S. Eastern Seaboard. “Marshes protect us from storms,” said Lea King-Badyna. “That’s why it is so important to keep them thriving and healthy.”
Keeping such an important resource vibrant is one of the missions of Keep Golden Isles Beautiful (KGIB), where Lea serves as Executive Director. The non-profit is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and has five main areas of emphasis—litter prevention, water resource awareness, education, waste reduction, recycling and community greening.
In addition to Lea, KGIB has only one other paid employee, Executive Assistant Christy Trowbridge, and depends on a network of volunteers, community organizations, businesses, schools and local governments to meet its missions. KGIB is also affiliated with Keep America Beautiful and the Keep Georgia Beautiful Foundation.
Lea joined KGIB in 2013 after spending 10 years with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources/Coastal Resources Division. “I found my passion when I went to work for the Georgia DNR,” Lea said, “they brought to my understanding our coastal resources and how vital they are. I also learned that the coastal Georgia environmental network is a small, but mighty, network of passionate people.” During her tenure, Lea organized and managed the DNR CoastFest, a popular annual event, which draws thousands of attendees. “The DNR really sparked my passion for keeping our coast healthy, particularly the salt marshes. People don’t realize it’s nobody’s job to pull trash from the marsh; that’s where we come in.”
According to the organization’s 2018 cost benefit analysis, KGIB completed 13,871 volunteer hours last year, recovering 89-tons of roadway litter and another 89-tons of recyclables. This year started with a bang at Marsh Madness, where at 12 different cleanups throughout the month of March, volunteers cleaned up Glynn County marshes.” Other recent large events were the Annual Electronics Recycling & More event and the Yamaha Coastal Georgia Cleanup on World Oceans Day, June 8.
“Last summer and this summer we got a grant to help in a Georgia coast-wide effort, covering all six coastal counties. On June 8 we had 60 volunteers just on St. Simons alone and tackled all 41 public beach access points.” Volunteers also worked cleanups at Fancy Bluff in Brunswick and on Jekyll Island. “We are able to accomplish our goals through partnerships and our tremendous network of dedicated volunteers, who cannot get enough kudos,” Lea said. “It’s imperative to have both dedicated partners and volunteers.”
KGIB is fortunate in finding a pool of volunteers, who are passionate about the mission. One recent initiative required quite the commitment of volunteers. “After we lost so many trees with Hurricane Irma, we were able to get a grant to plant 52 live oak trees two years later. Twenty-six trees were planted on the mainland and another 26 on St. Simons. Volunteers had to commit to watering those trees for a year by hauling 52 gallons of water at a time. That took a lot of dedication!”
In addition to their own programs, Lea said they work to “heavily empower groups to clean an area by providing them supplies and arranging for garbage pickup. We have a list of habitual areas we can send big groups to for cleaning.” Those areas include “littered areas we tend not to see, like under bridges.”
While KGIB’s complete list of programs is too lengthy, they include litter education initiatives, the Christmas Tree “Bring One for the Chipper” Recycling Program, and beautification projects. Lea is particularly excited about the Community Citrus Orchard. “We secured a grant to plant a community citrus grove in Brunswick’s Howard Coffin Park. We hope people can pick fruit from it and hope to have a patchwork of citrus groves around the area. However, we depend on donations of plants to be able to do this.”
As to the biggest litter problem they encounter, it comes down to the butts.
“Cigarette butts are the bane of my existence,” Lea said, shaking her head. “They don’t biodegrade. And when they get wet, toxins leach into the environment.”
Another big source of litter is unsecured loads. “A lot of litter along our roadways, primarily US 17, US 301, and the Torras and Sea Island causeways, is from unsecured loads, which is a fineable offense.”
Yet another educational initiative is the effort to stop balloon releases. “Against county and city ordinances, balloon releases are a big problem in our area,” Lea said. She knows it is a sensitive topic because “they look beautiful. People like to think they go up to heaven, but they all come down somewhere.” KGIB works to educate the public through social media and flyers given to area teachers and funeral homes.
And, although recruiting and retaining volunteers is paramount, Lea said there’s another way residents can help. “The One Million Pollinator Challenge is an easy and fun way to get involved.” Individuals, groups and schools can participate by planting pollinator friendly gardens, or registering existing gardens.”
While Lea’s life revolves around her work for KGIB, she does enjoy spending time with Bud, her husband of 10 years, whom she met through the Golden Isles Track Club. Time with their “feline fur babies” is important, too. “We have two inside cats; B.B. King and Nereid (named for a mythological sea nymph) and, six feral cats we had fixed.”
Lea enjoys working on local races with the track club, riding her bike, kayaking around the marshes, spending time with friends and “doing artsy-craftsy things.” She volunteers with Faithworks and LifeLink of Georgia when she gets the chance. “I also enjoy spending time with my nieces and nephew, going to the beach and just relaxing on the Satilla River. I really love Southeast Georgia. It’s such a special place.”
“We can all get involved. Working with others for a common goal is pretty cool. You also get immediate gratification because you have made a difference. I think of the marshes as my own backyard and want to do my part to keep them clean and healthy. No one wants to live in a world full of litter.”