Economists think they know how much you’d pay to visit a cleaner beach

How much would you pay to see less garbage by the sea?
How much would you pay to see less garbage by the sea?
Image: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
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Environmental economists have calculated how much Californians want to see their beaches restored to a pristine state.

A study published in Marine Resource Economics (pdf) aimed to estimate the economic benefits associated with cleaner coasts. It found that Californians could be willing to pay $13 each to see 25% less trash at the beach, and a full $43 for a 75% reduction.

The paper’s authors also calculated that the hypothetical cleanup could translate into benefits ranging from $30 to $100 million for Southern Californian residents.

In order to perform the study, researchers asked local residents about how often and where they visited the beach, resulting in data on 18,915 trips. They also counted and categorized debris on 31 different beaches near Orange County. Using this data, they created a model that helped them understand the relationship between variables like choice of location, cost of travel, and beach cleanliness. The analysis allowed them to determine the magnitude of potential benefit, expressed in dollars, if waste was reduced at all 31 locations.

The researchers’ economic analysis revealed how much of a priority a trash-free seaside is for local residents. This assertion was backed-up by a survey of 1,433 Orange County locals to determine their interest in beach cleanliness. Asked about the importance of 13 different beach characteristics, 66% ranked ridding the beach of ‘marine debris’ (ie. trash) as five times more important than clearing it of ‘natural debris’, like kelp or tree limbs.

Estimating the economic worth of environmental resources can be a complex task; however, this type of analysis provides a way to quantify the benefit of improving environmental quality. “[P]utting a price on natural resources has encouraged decision-makers to recognize that natural capital is finite,” one of the paper’s authors, Timothy Haab, writes. The Ohio State University professor argues that understanding the economic value of waste reduction can build support for environmental policy.