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Following Gasparilla, Tampa workers and volunteers collect around 20 tons of trash

A garbage truck that says "City of Tampa." Behind it is Tampa Bay; in front is scattered trash and a fence.
Nancy Guan
In the early morning hours of Sunday, January 28, 2024, Tampa garbage trucks hauled away tons of trash left after the Gasparilla Parade and Pirate Fest.

Hundreds of volunteers and employees worked from Saturday night through Sunday afternoon to collect 20 tons of trash from this past weekend's parade.

In the wake of this past weekend’s Gasparilla Pirate Fest, volunteers and Tampa city workers went on a treasure hunt.

Their haul? Around 20 tons of trash along Bayshore Boulevard, as well as and on and below the surface of Tampa Bay.

The team clean-up effort was organized through the city and the volunteer-based organization, Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful.

Hundreds of volunteers and employees worked from Saturday night through Sunday afternoon to collect and dispose of the trash.

Stephen Swan is the chief of operations for Tampa’s Solid Waste Department — the group of superheroes who swooped in to help save the environment and return Bayshore and Tampa Bay to their pre-parade status.

“You don't just throw your litter on the ground, find a receptacle and use that,” Swan said. “It's just being a good human being and a good practice. It really shows the commitment to the community.”

He said his team set out almost 400 trash carts along Bayshore before the ceremonies.

Despite the carts, Swan said they still faced mass amounts of litter afterwards.

Plastic water bottles, napkins, red solo cups and empty cans are scattered on a patch of grass.
Nancy Guan
Litter is scattered all over the grass from the parade.

“We encourage people to use the containers because it makes our job much easier at the end to clean up. But of course, that's just not how it goes,” Swan said. “That's why there's so much trash on the ground and everywhere else that you see.”

He added that once the last vendor tent was taken down, his crew immediately began their pickup Saturday night, finishing up around 1 p.m. Sunday.

“The Sunday cleanup typically is more of the fine clean when Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful comes with their volunteers to clean up,” Swan said. “We do the big cleanup on Saturday night to get all the heavy volume of the trash, the cups, the food, the plates, (and) all the things that get dropped on the ground.”

Those things include the hundreds of beaded necklaces thrown from floats during the parade that end up littering the streets and the bay.

Colorful pieces of plastic trash line the street.
Garbiella Pinos
Discarded beaded necklaces and plastic cups are scattered along the streets.

USF graduate and microplastic researcher Kinsley McEachern told WUSF in 2020 about the toxins and dangers that come from the trinkets.

She said that the plastic absorbs heavy metals and contains its own toxic chemicals that, when ingested, poison marine life.

McEachern also noted that the broken strands of beads are taken to landfills, which means they could eventually end up back in Tampa’s waterways — or in incinerators.

Swan said he is still taking calls for any debris they missed, but that the largest portions of discarded beads and trash are gone.

For below the surface clean-up efforts, the Tampa Police Department’s dive team helps retrieve the trash that made its way into the bay.

The department partners with local dive teams and clubs to collect loose beads and necklaces, plastic cups, and straws to prevent waterway pollution.

Around 450 volunteers with Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful came out on Sunday to clear the neighborhood of smaller, hard-to-see debris, like beads and coins that weaved their way into bushes or grass.

Black trash bags that are full are piled on top of one another. Behind the bags is a tent that says "Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful."
Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful
Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful volunteers picked up a large portion of the hard-to-see debris.

“It's amazing when you drive down there, even from Sunday morning to Sunday night. You could never imagine that almost 500,000 people have come through this parade,” Swan said. “It's amazing how quickly it gets done and everything gets restored to what it was. Having that many folks out there to scour all those pieces makes all the difference in the world.”

As part of Tampa’s “Bead Free Bay” program, unwanted beads can be dropped off at any of these locations during their normal business hours:

  • Kate Jackson Community Center, 821 S. Rome Ave.
  • Loretta Ingraham Recreation Complex, 1611 N. Hubert Ave.
  • Copeland Park Center, 11001 N 15th St.
  • MacDonald Training Center, 5420 W Cypress St.
Kayla Kissel is a WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for spring of 2024.
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