Enjoying your beach and cleaning it too: a Grounded Theory Ethnography of enviro-leisure activism

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This research explores the phenomenon of beach cleaning as an activity for environmental activism and coastal recreation. This is significant as beach litter continues to blight coastal environments and decreases visitor satisfaction. Increasingly, groups of individuals are voluntarily removing litter from the beach. Through the use of Grounded Theory Ethnography, this research was able to conceptually explain beach cleaning behaviour; thereby producing an original theory of “enviro-leisure activism.” After following groups of beach cleaners in Northern Ireland for 16 months and iteratively collecting and analysing data through participant observation and constant comparison analysis, it became evident that beach cleaning is a predominantly recreational activity, situated on the serious leisure spectrum with competing environmental and leisure motives. Beach cleaners inhabit social worlds bounded by legitimacy, identity and shared altruistic values. They exhibit low-level focused activism and a strong sense of place attachment. Story-telling and litter hunting emerged as mechanisms to cope with the perpetuity of the litter problem. Beach cleaning events could provide opportunities for tourism planners to promote inclusive, recreational family activities and attract new visitors to their local beach. Likewise, by engaging proactively with beach cleaning volunteers, environmental NGOs and policymakers could improve their own pro-environmental behaviour campaigns.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Sustainable Tourism
Early online date23 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished online - 23 Jul 2021

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© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • environment
  • leisure
  • activism
  • coastal tourism
  • beach cleaning


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