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Plastic dominates global beach clean list

For first time in over three decades, plastics sweep Top 10 List of items collected during international coastal cleanup
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Plastic dominates global beach clean

Ocean Conservancy has released the results of its 2017 International Coastal Cleanup (ICC), reporting that for the first time since the inception of the ICC more than 30 years ago, all of the top-10 items collected by volunteers around the world were made of plastic, pushing glass beverage bottles off the list.

‘Over the years, we have seen plastics creeping into the top-10 list, displacing items like rope, beverage cans and paper bags’, said Nicholas Mallos, director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas® program. ‘But this is the first year that all 10 of the top-10 items collected are made of plastic. Given that plastic production is rising, this could be the start of a long and troubling trend.’

2.4m cigarette butts collected

The figures are based on the work of ICC coordinators and volunteers worldwide. In addition to cleaning beaches and waterways, the volunteers contribute to the world’s largest database on marine debris by logging each rubbish item on a paper data card or into Ocean Conservancy’s Clean Swell mobile app.

In all, 789,138 volunteers in more than 100 countries collected nearly 20.5 million pounds (or 9.3 million kilograms) of rubbish during last year’s ICC.

As in previous years, cigarette butts — which contain plastic filters — topped the list at approximately 2.4 million collected.

Food wrappers (1.7 million), plastic beverage bottles (1.6 million), plastic bottle caps (1.1 million) and plastic grocery bags (757,523) rounded out the top five. When looking at grocery bags and other plastic bags (bin bags, newspaper bags, etc.) together, more than 1.5 million were collected in total.

Finding meaningful solutions

With these latest results, nearly 13 million volunteers have collected nearly 250 million pounds of trash from beaches and waterway worldwide since 1986, when Ocean Conservancy first mobilised the annual International Coastal Cleanup.

‘What sets the ICC apart is our emphasis on data collection’, said George Leonard, Ocean Conservancy’s chief scientist, ‘and data are critically needed if we are to find meaningful solutions to the ocean plastic crisis.’

Scientists, researchers, industry leaders and policymakers rely on Ocean Conservancy’s Ocean Trash Index to inform policy and determine solutions to the growing ocean plastic pollution crisis.

Why cleanups matter

Every year, an estimated 8 million metric tonnes of plastic waste flow into the ocean. More than 800 animal species have been impacted by plastic, which never fully biodegrade but rather break up into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics.

Though a range of solutions — including investments to improve waste management in certain regions — are needed to stem the tide of plastic in the ocean, beach cleanups remain important tools.

‘The ICC raises awareness of ocean health and conservation issues and connects individuals to the problem of marine debris in a deeply personal and tangible way’, said Allison Schutes, associate director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas® program. ‘And thanks to the amazing work of our coordinators and volunteers, cleanups have measurable impact. Every item of debris removed is one less item putting ocean wildlife at risk.’

Click here to add your name to the call for supermarkets to introduce a plastic-free aisle.

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