VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Free coffee, a yoga class, a stack of pancakes or half off a growler. These are some of the incentives people can get for helping to clean up local beaches. It's called the Better Beach Project and after just one year in Chic's Beach, it's expanding.
"We just noticed a ton of glass all over the beach and wanted to do something about it," said Marissa Milliken, who started the project with her husband Brad.
The Millikens are a military couple currently calling Chic's Beach home. Brad has always been sensitive about glass on the beach. His dad cut his foot on a piece of glass at the beach. Last year, their dog Ollie cut his paw on a piece of glass while playing at the beach.
"It took us looking down and seeing a trail of blood following him," said Marissa.
Then just a few weeks later, Brad found a piece of glass next to where a group of children were building sandcastles. He thought to himself, either nobody noticed or nobody cared. That's when he and Marissa decided they wanted change and they wanted others to care about making the beach better.
"How could we do this? How could we incentivize this? Could a cup of coffee do this?" said Brad.
That's how the Your Better Beach Project was created. People can bring in one container of trash from the beach and they would get something in return. They pitched local businesses in Chic's Beach and the idea took off.
"Every time we pitched it to somebody, I think we had a 99 percent success rate. I think one business said they weren’t interested," said Brad. "16 ounces at a time, we can take it away."
After one year, more than 800 gallons of trash have been collected and the Better Beach Project decided to expand to other local beaches. They are currently partnered with 42 businesses and are waiting to hear back from 16 more.
"Getting some folks involved all the way in Ocean View and down to Sandbridge," said Marissa.
Businesses from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel to the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel are involved, allowing the community to clean up more local beaches.
"We could stop and we can say, 'Hey look we did it in Virginia Beach,' but I still don't think we've come close to what the potential could be," said Brad.
That potential is something Brad said he hopes will spread since he believes this idea is universal and can be implemented anywhere with anything. It's possibly something they'll take with them wherever they go.
"I think the best part for us was knowing even though our time here is almost coming a close, we’ll both be stationed somewhere else this time next year, we feel we've made a lasting impact. Even if we're not here, the Better Beach Project will continue and people will keep this going," said Marissa.