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Plastic Beach Project - Understanding Plastic Pollution at 15 Beaches in the SF Bay Area

November 26 2012 | Rise Above Plastics,
by Bill Hickman

Surfrider Foundation San Francisco Chapter activists developed a method to document trash collected during Surfrider’s local beach cleanups and conduct scientific research to systematically compare plastic pollution on 15 local beaches. The purpose of the project funded by a Patagonia Grant was to document the quantity and type of beach litter on local beaches to better understand the source of the litter, facilitate coastal policy changes, and raise the public’s awareness of beach litter environmental problems.

In addition to developing a data card to log plastic picked up at local beach cleanups, Surfrider Foundation activists also conducted research in the Bay Area using a systematic method to determine plastic pollution quantities and types on 15 local beaches.  South Ocean Beach (Sloat) showed the highest amounts of plastic pollution compared to other beaches by number of plastic particles and by weight; therefore, South Ocean Beach (Sloat) was the “most plastic beach” discovered by this project.

The research showed that 84% of the beach trash collected was plastic.

The most common items found on the beach were small plastic and foam fragments, followed by cigarette butts, paper fragments, plastic food wrappers and nurdles, pre- production plastic pellets. It should be noted that beach characteristics, time of transect, and other details likely influenced these results. Therefore, beaches may have a totally different plastic pollution footprint at different times of the year. 

Regardless, this research shows that plastic pollution is an important local environmental issue. Surfrider plans to continue to raise awareness on issues related to plastic pollution and seek plastic source reductions to help reduce litter and plastic pollution in the ocean. Surfrider continues to encourage the public to reduce their plastic footprints by using less single-use plastic (NO plastic bottles, NO plastic bags, NO plastic straws).

Data like this can also be used to support local efforts to reduce plastic entering our waterways and oceans, like plastic bag bans and storm drain catchment basin installations. Together we can all make a different to reduce the plastic entering our oceans.

Carolynn Box led the research for this project and provided the info for this blog post.  You can view her full project report here and email her for more info on expending the project: carolynn@5gyres.org

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