Once dubbed 'Ocean S****y,' this vacation spot is on track to become the first zero-waste resort town in America

A beach in Ocean City, Maryland, with umbrellas, towels, and beach goers dotted throughout the sand.

Ocean City, Maryland plays host to the familiar sights, smells, and sounds of a coastal beach town: the blinking neon lights of arcade games, fresh boardwalk fries, and the calls of seagulls. 

But Ocean City is also known for a fourth element: trash. 

For years it was hard to walk two steps without spotting discarded food, cigarette butts, and plastic waste in the sand. Over time, locals and summer tourists alike began calling it by another name: “Ocean Shitty.” 

Josh Chamberlain, who grew up in Ocean City in the late 1980s, is no doubt familiar with the town’s reputation. But it doesn’t hold him back — instead, it became the driving force behind the environmental nonprofit Go Green OC

Beachgoers in swimsuits stand at the water's edge on the beach in Ocean City.
Beachgoers in Ocean City, MD. Image via Austin Kirk / Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Immediately after founding the organization in 2018, Chamberlain began spearheading a citywide compost program. So far his team has diverted over 650,000 pounds of food waste.

“As humans, we all share one thing…we all live on the planet together and we should leave it better than we found it,” Chamberlain told WMDT

In early June, students from Wicomico County Public School joined Chamberlain in a composting demonstration. For many teens, it was their first time learning how to compost

“It’s important for us to reach them at a young age,” Chamberlain said. “This is getting people hands-on, in the dirt, seeing our sustainability efforts, it’s one of our top goals for sure.”

During the field trip, the Ocean City chapter of the Surfrider foundation dropped by to donate to Go Green OC. The funds will go towards upscaling composting efforts in the city. 

“We just work together, we have a similar mission and goal of protecting the environment and protecting our oceans, our beaches, and we just love to see him working towards that zero waste goal in Ocean City,” said Marina Feeser, Chair of the OC Surfrider Foundation.

Chamberlain is grateful for the nonprofit’s growth as they enter their seventh season. Go Green OC started out with just a single truck and a small band of volunteers, and now they’re starting to see some “serious change” in the city. 

“We’re becoming a voice in the zero-waste space,” Chamberlain told the Ocean City Today-Dispatch. “We’re becoming a model.” 

On their website, Go Green OC outlines their strategy for becoming the first zero waste resort town in the United States: removing 30% of organic waste through composting, introducing dual-stream recycling programs, and replacing plastics with compostable products on a town-wide scale. 

In 2023, Go Green OC also partnered with Oceans Calling, a three-day music festival on the Ocean City Boardwalk, to make it as eco-friendly as possible. 

As headliners like Alanis Morissette, Noah Kahan, and The Lumineers played, fans could use refillable water stations and compost their food waste in bins along the boardwalk. 

“The volunteers collected 5,300 pounds of food waste and compostable products like forks, napkins, plates and bowls,” Chamberlain told the Ocean City Today-Dispatch

At the festival, Surfrider’s Ocean City chapter also hosted a Rock and Recycle station, which encouraged festival goers to collect recyclable cans on the beach in exchange for free merch. 

“Festival attendees could grab a bag full of cans to recycle and in return receive a free t-shirt,” Chamberlain said. “They ran out of bags and shirts by day two because of the popularity of the program.

This year’s Oceans Calling festival is on September 27 through September 29. The lineup includes headliners like The Killers, Blink 182, and The Dave Matthews Band. 

As the concert approaches, Chamberlain and his team of volunteers set an ambitious goal: triple their compost numbers from last year.  

Overall, Go Green OC wants to change the way their community views waste — and maybe even discard it’s trashy nickname once and for all. 

“Ocean City is doing some incredible green efforts and [no] one is hearing about them,” reads a statement on Go Green OC’s website. “We need to be shouting them from the rooftop.”

Header Image via Wikimedia Commons / Dough4872 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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June 7, 2024 1:31 PM
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