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Worldwide Beach Litter Stats - Plastics Lead The List

May 22 2013 | Rise Above Plastics, Bag Bans, Expanded Polystyrene Foam,
by Bill Hickman

The Ocean Conservancy recently released the totals from last years' worldwide Coastal Cleanup Day (CCD) and each of the top seven items picked up are typically made from plastic.  CCD provides a one day snapshot of beach litter with over half a million volunteers picking up over ten million pounds of litter covering over 1,700 miles of coastline.  Cigarette butts are #1 on the list again and smoke-free beaches are one way to help curb the problem.  Food wrappers/containers came in at #2 and plastic bottles were #3.  Chapters can take an active lead in pursuing EPS foam food ware bans and support statewide bottle recycling bills to help tackle those items.  Plastic bags, caps/lids, utensils and straws/stirrers rounded out the top seven.  Plastic bags are the tip of the litter iceberg and it's becoming apparent that more source reduction efforts are needed to help stop plastic pollution.

Cigarette butts are the top item on the list again, and the #1 item at just about every cleanup.  Cigarette butts are typically made from cellulose acetate, a fibrous form of plastic.  While it may degrade in a few years, it's likely degraded into lots of small plastic fragments rather than truly biodegrading.  In addition, and possibly more alarming, is that the butts can leach out those toxins they are trying to help protect smokers from when submersed in water.  Researchers from San Diego State University have shown lethal impacts to fish in their studies.  In addition to smoke-free beaches, installing outdoor ashcans in heavily littered areas makes a bigger impact.

Food wrappers/containers is a rather broad category that can include everything from chip and candy wrappers to expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam 'clam shells'.  Surfrider Chapters actively pursue expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam bans because of the lasting impact of polystyrene litter.  #6 Polystyrene is one of the least likely plastics to be recycled, is often littered and easily breaks into small pieces that are harder to clean up.

Plastic bottles are the #3 item picked up worldwide on CCD but recycling rates in places that have a bottle recycling bill are much higher.  That typically leads to less bottle litter.  #4 on the list is plastic bags, and we are on a mission to rid the world of those as there's an easy answer for checkout bags by utilizing reusable bags.  #5 on the list is caps and lids which can be littered because they are small or left behind because they are typically made from a different plastic resin than the bottle and harder to recycle.  #6 and #7 on the CCD list are basically singe-use plates and utensils that can be harder to target but you can make a difference by choosing to reuse!

Get involved with your local Surfrider Chapter to help reduce plastic pollution!

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