Beach Clean-up Data Sets

Summary: This data includes information about trash that volunteer clean-up crews picked up along Lakes Michigan, Huron, Erie and Superior. Otherwise known as marine debris, volunteers recorded the number and type of trash collected. Volunteers are a critical part of keeping beaches clean and safe. There are separate data set files for each lake, see below.

Select among the following four beach clean-up data sets:

Sample Inquiry Questions:

  • What type of trash is the biggest contributor to beach debris?
  • Is one type of trash more common in some places compared to others?
  • Is there a relationship between the amount of litter collected and the number of volunteers?
  • Is there a relationship between the amount of litter collected and the total time spent volunteering?
  • Understanding outliers: What types of items contribute disproportionately to the total weight of trash? Does this affect the overall stats (pounds collected per volunteer hour)?

Consider Volunteering in Your Community:

Participate in stream, river and lakeshore clean-up and monitoring activities in your community.

There are many citizen-science opportunities to learn how to collect data and contribute to monitoring efforts in the Great Lakes region.

Search for opportunities with the following organizations in your area:


This data was collected through the Adopt-a-Beach volunteer program, run by the Alliance for the Great Lakes. During each beach clean-up event, litter is collected by volunteers, recorded and recycled or disposed of properly. A standard form (Litter Monitoring Form) is used to record the items found on the beach. The results are entered into the Alliance for the Great Lakes’ online data entry system.

It is a very popular program, with some 10,000 annual participants ranging from individuals and families to schools and businesses. The Adopt-a-Beach events are more than just beach cleanups — they are also data collection points. Teams conduct litter removal and monitoring, and also complete a beach health assessment form that includes science-based observation and testing. Information collected is entered into the Adopt-a-Beach online system and is used to educate the public, share with local beach authorities and improve beaches. The beach data collections are part of the Alliance’s Water Quality Program. The program is dedicated to helping keep water clean in order to protect the health of the people, fish and wildlife of the Great Lakes by addressing:

  • Untreated Municipal Sewage Overflows
  • Nutrient Runoff/Algae Growth
  • Pollution from Petroleum Refineries and Other Industries
  • Pharmaceutical Pollution

The data is used to educate and encourage people to participate in water quality decisions affecting their health and to work with government agencies, municipalities and businesses to develop/strengthen management plans that protect the health of our Great Lakes beaches.

Data Source: Alliance for the Great Lakes, Adopt-A-Beach Program.