Written by John Streit — Brad Milliken had seen one too many pieces of broken glass on the beach near his house. Mindless litter on the beach had always bummed him out, but now it was personal. While playing catch on the beach, his dog Ollie stepped on a piece of glass and opened up a nasty wound.
“Everywhere he was stepping, he was leaving spots of blood,” said Milliken, whose dad suffered the same injury while walking barefoot on the beach once. “He had a 50-cent-piece slice of glass stuck in his paw.” Soon after, Milliken was running on the beach when he noticed more pieces of broken glass – this time right next to some kids playing in the sand.
“I was talking to Tim [O’Brien], the owner of Pleasure House Brewery, about having picked up those pieces of broken glass off the beach,” Milliken said. “And he said, ‘If someone came to me with a bunch of glass they picked up off the beach, I’d give them a free beer.’ That’s when Brad knew he was on to something. After receiving the same response from many local business owners along the stretch of Virginia Beach that lines the Chesapeake Bay, the Make A Better Beach effort was born.
This spring, along with his wife, Marissa, Brad Milliken started the beach cleanup initiative, which encourages folks to fill 16-oz. containers with small-but-dangerous pieces of beach litter to bring to local businesses in exchange for a free item or service. So far, 17 businesses, from breweries to coffee shops to hair salons, have teamed up with the Millikens to push the cause forward. Beachgoers pick up their 16-oz container at participating business, or they can fill their own. Once the container is filled with broken glass, pieces of hard plastic, or bottle caps, the container can be swapped for a freebie.
“It’s not that we’re drowning in trash on the beach or anything, but I think we have the chance to go from being a good beach to being a more pristine beach,” Milliken said. “Especially because this area is so residential.” Geo Bauman, tasting room manager for Commonwealth Brewing Company, said being a part of Make A Better Beach was a no-brainer.
“It just makes sense,” Bauman said. “There are a lot of people in this area who are a little senseless and leave stuff on the beach that they shouldn’t. I’ve seen the trash that people bring back, and it’s pretty amazing that more dogs like Brad’s haven’t been injured.” Milliken said that he hopes to spread the initiative to other parts of Virginia Beach next summer after this inaugural campaign proved so successful. “I just think it’s been a really cool experiment on the power of community,” Milliken said. “We all love where we live and we all want to make it a better place.”