Hilton Head 5th-graders were worried about beach litter. Now they’ve got a $120K project

When three fifth-grade students from Hilton Head Elementary School approached the Hilton Head Island Town Council in December, the audience sat up straighter to hear their case.

Rosa Olivetti, Joshua Prada and Ethan Simpson presented what they said was a simple solution for litter on the beach: Secure and cover the trash cans so they can’t tip over and pollute the water.

They received resounding support from council members and the audience.

Jacob Torres, a fifth-grader who is also working with his peers on the project, said he was walking in Jarvis Creek Park last year with his dad and his dog when he noticed “a whole bunch of trash” on the ground from overturned trash cans.

“It’s damaging the ecosystem,” his classmate, Simpson, told The Island Packet.

“We started thinking we should do something about it,” Olivetti added. The students said they were afraid that animals such as fish, squirrels, deer and turtles were getting caught up in the trash that strays from the existing bins.

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The Hilton Head beach where photographer Ned McNair said he frequently photographs the sunrise ... “and the trash cans.” Ned McNair submitted

Now, the students’ plan to make the island cleaner is underway.

On Monday, the town’s public facilities committee heard the first proposal for wooden trash corrals that would take the place of existing — and sometimes flimsy — open, black trash cans.

“In response to the presentation made to Town Council in December, these trash corrals were constructed by the town and made of pine,” town engineer Scott Liggett said Monday. “(The wood) was left to be unfinished.”

Outside of utility, council members ascribed higher meaning to the environmental nature and style of the project.

“The beach is our island’s focus,” council member David Ames said. “I think that when we are making this decision, in effect what we are doing is telling the world our value system.”

The trash corrals will have two compartments, Liggett said — one side with a lid for recyclables and one open side for trash that sits below the edge of the wooden corral to block the wind.

Shore Beach Services lifeguards will take care of pick-up, according to operations manager Mike Wagner.

“It’ll add a little bit of maintenance time,” Wagner said Monday. “But I see no problem with this.”

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Town of Hilton Head Island public facilities agenda.

How much will trash enclosures cost?

There are 292 trash cans on Hilton Head’s beaches — which town staff estimate will cost $120,000 in total to enclose.

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Town of Hilton Head Island public facilities agenda.

But the working plan is to start by installing the trash cans at town beach parks only, which brings the start-up cost down to $17,752, according to Liggett’s presentation.

The students’ eyes widened at that number, but they say it’s worth it.

“I mean it’s going to keep our beaches clean,” Prada said.

“And the world,” Simpson added.

“If we start off small, it can affect the whole world,” Olivetti said. “If the rest of South Carolina knew we were doing this, people could start doing the same thing.”

The project’s costs would be absorbed in the 2019 operating budget, according to Liggett.

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Ned McNair submitted.

Town staff recommended rolling out the program at Coligny and Islanders beach parks first. Committee chair Marc Grant said he’s excited about the project but wants to evenly distribute the new corrals in the first wave.

“I just want to be sure however many we (start with) that we are inclusive in where we put them,” Grant said. “I don’t think it should be just Coligny and Islanders ... Hilton Head has more than two beaches.”

The committee approved the trash can proposal and it will come before the full Town Council on April 2.

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Katherine Kokal moved to South Carolina in 2018 after graduating from the University of Missouri and loves everything about the Lowcountry that isn’t a Palmetto Bug. She has won South Carolina Press Association awards for in-depth and government beat reporting. On the weekends, you can find Kati doing yoga and hiking Pinckney Island.