logo

How much plastic did volunteers pick up in the International Coastal Cleanup?

By: Don Loepp

May 14, 2013

Plastic products get a lot of the blame when it comes to marine debris and litter. So what are the facts?

I touched on this topic last week when I wrote: "By volume, single-use grocery bags are not a huge part of litter and marine debris. Look at the results of any beach cleanup, and you'll see that bags are way down the list of problem products." ("Time running out to block bag bans.")

Was I right? I guess it depends on what you consider "way down the list," but I'm going to say no, at least not this year.

Today, the Ocean Conservancy released the results of its 2012 International Coastal Cleanup. The group says more than 500,000 volunteers picked up 10.1 million pounds of trash along 17,719 miles of coastline last year. In the 27-year history of the Coastal Cleanup, that's the third-highest number of pounds.

So how much is plastic?

Quite a bit.

As you can see, the No. 1 culprit remains cigarette and cigarette filters. No. 2 on the list is food wrappers and containers -- obviously a lot of plastic there -- followed by plastic beverage bottles, plastic bags, caps & lids, and cups, and food service products (cups, plates, forks, knives and spoons.)

It's not surprising that single-use items dominate the list. They're the most likely items to end up in litter.

Nicholas Mallos , Ocean Conservancy's marine debris specialist, called the 10 million pounds of trash "an astounding amount," and he urges the public to do more -- not just in cleaning up trash, but to rethink the issue from beginning to end.

"Whether it's the smallest bottle cap to the weirdest finds, like the 117 mattresses collected, every piece of trash affects the health of our ocean, and subsequently our economy, environment and health," Mallos said in a news release.

Ocean Conservancy's partners in the Coastal Cleanup include Coca-Cola Co., National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Altria Group Inc., Dow Chemical Co., Landshark Lager, Glad, Brunswick Public Foundation, Walt Disney Co., CVS Caremark, Teva and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.