Beach trash is piled in the back of a city of Myrtle Beach pickup just after dawn.
Boogie boards, spent fireworks, chairs, towels, umbrellas and other objects clump in a full truck bed Saturday, collected from near Springmaid Pier to around the 82nd Avenue North beach access.
The mass is just part of what is gathered by workers who toil to clean city beaches during early morning hours.
“It’s a thankless job,” Myrtle Beach Parks Maintenance Superintendent Richard Kirby said of the work, much of which occurs before daybreak. “People never see you.”
Typically from around Easter to about the end of October, employees will cruise the beach seven days a week to perform the labor, working eight-hour shifts that tend to start at 2 or 3 a.m.
The city tries to focus on getting work done in hotel districts first, with the labor in residential zones being performed later in the morning.
One or two “beach rakes” pick up debris and one or two machines use dumpsters and empty bins along the coast.
A couple golf carts, two to three pickup trucks and five to six other individuals normally roam the beaches during that stretch of the year and work in conjunction with the machinery.
Part of that work is picking up things like towels, which can clog up the rake machines, and coolers.
“People leave all kinds of stuff,” Kirby said.
Variables like weather, workload and staff availability can affect how many workers are on the beach on a given day.
Employees place chairs taken from hotel sites to the beach back near the establishments for maintenance workers to pick up and so they are out the way.
They also keep an eye out for anything that may have washed up on the shore such as pieces of wood and dead fish.
Sometimes, the city adjusts its schedules because of the tide. As a full moon brings a higher tide, some vegetative debris can wash up on the beach, which is usually picked up by the beach rakes.
Once the machinery is off the beach, workers will perform work on sand dunes and beach accesses, doing tasks like picking up trash by hand.
The beach cleaning is only part of the work done by the city’s public works department, which includes several divisions such as the parks division.
Though that work ramps up in months like July, Kirby said efforts to keep the beach clean are year-round, with six to eight employees tasked with performing the labor throughout the year.
The beaches are raked and the bins are emptied daily.
A maintenance area off 33rd Avenue North has roughly 20 large dumpsters.
Four to seven of those containers are often filled in just a day, and the city’s solid waste division comes to empty the dumpsters every couple days.
Additionally, chairs, umbrellas and popup tents considered to be scrap metal are also placed in a separate dumpster at the maintenance area.
Waccamaw Metal Recycling takes the container to empty it and brings it back, eventually sending a check to the city for the value of the scrap metal.
Last year alone, Kirby estimated this process generated maybe as much as $7,000 or so, noting this prevents those items from contributing to a landfill.
He added the city got the idea from the town of Surfside Beach.
Surfside Beach Public Works Director Jon Adair said objects including large chairs with metal are placed in a container to be turned over to Allen Scrap Metal, which ends up paying the town.
Six months out of the year, including the summer, the trash and recycling containers at beaches in Surfside Beach are emptied every day. The town rakes the beaches three times a week.
In unincorporated Horry County, beach crews work between five to seven days a week depending on demand and the time of year, county spokeswoman Kelly Moore said.
Those workers clean the beaches and accesses starting at midnight and end their day around noon, except during the off season, when they typically work between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Myrtle Beach’s Kirby said debris such as shells and rocks picked up by beach rakes — including times of the year when beach renourishment is done — are put into a big pile that workers pick trash out of.
That debris is sometimes used for things like base materials for roads and at spots at dunes that experience washouts to help manage water flow.
“Usually, it’s shoes, sunglasses, children toys, little plastic sandcastle building stuff; that’s typically what we find,” Kirby said of items discarded, adding items like water bottles are also collected.
While there’s trash picked up off the beach daily, Kirby said, in general, those who visit the seaside will use bins for trash or recyclables that are nearby.
North Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach officials said the same was true for both those municipalities as well.
North Myrtle Beach spokesman Pat Dowling said city beach goers tend to not leave trash and other items on the beach, and those on the beach have also encouraged others around them to pick up after themselves.
“Most people don’t leave a whole lot,” he said.
During the primary season, two to three mechanical rakes clean the beach each morning starting at around 5 a.m. At the same time, the trash and recycle bins on the beach and at accesses are emptied.
The dumpsters Myrtle Beach’s parks division uses for emptying the bins at the beach are nine cubic yards.
On an average day in the summertime, five or so of those dumpsters arefilled. That number doesn't count what is gathered by rakes, just from out of trash and recycle cans.
On a typical summer day, Kirby said there are enough boogie boards, chairs and umbrellas gathered to fill two truck beds. Towels alone collected can fill another truck bed.
“It never ceases to amaze me,” Kirby said.
Those discarded towels can be put to good use, however. Grand Strand Humane Society Director Jess Wnuk said animals at the shelter can use towels like those that are left on the beach.
Kirby added a lot of times, tourists will fill their cars up with things like boogie boards and chairs when heading to the area to vacation and simply leave the items because their cars end up full when they depart.
Oftentimes, those who leave certain object on the beach are surprised when they return the following morning to see the items are no longer there, having been scooped up by another visitor.
“That happens all the time,” Kirby said.
Keep Horry County Beautiful chairman Bo Ives encourages community members to contact Horry County Solid Waste Authority and schedule a tour of the landfill in Conway off S.C. 90, where a lot of trash from area localities ends up.
“If they see how big the problem is, it would amaze them,” he said.