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Surfrider's 2019 Beach Cleanup Report

The Surfrider Foundation is pleased to release the 2019 Beach Cleanup Report. The first annual Beach Cleanup Report highlights the impact of our national Beach Cleanup program in 2019 and presents regional stories, current science and how we utilize beach cleanup data to create large-scale policy change. 

Surfrider’s Plastic Pollution Initiative uses a multi-pronged approach and the Beach Cleanup program is the first step in reducing the amount of plastic ending up in our waterways, on our beaches and ultimately in the ocean. Our volunteer chapter network conducts local beach cleanups across the nation and removes hundreds of thousands of pounds of trash and recyclables each year.

Beach cleanups play a crucial role in enabling us to learn more about the types of plastic ending up on our beaches. Our network of citizen scientists collect data during cleanups which gives Surfrider a clear picture of the state of our beaches. The 2019 Beach Cleanup Report illustrates how Surfrider has structured a system to track and account for the top littered items on the beach. We can then use this data to influence policies on a local, state and national level. During 2019, 47,059 Surfrider volunteers held 936 beach cleanups and removed nearly 300,000 pounds of trash and recycling from our beaches.

Our beaches are also suffering negative impacts from the coronavirus outbreak. Increased takeout foodware and single-use packaging, improperly discarded personal protective equipment (PPE) and limited volunteer events to clean the beach has led to increased reports of litter on our coastlines. In response to the increasing reports of finding masks and gloves on the beach this spring, we quickly adapted our cleanup form to include PPE to help better understand the lasting environmental impacts COVID-19 has on our beaches.

In 2018, the Better Beach Alliance was founded by the Surfrider Foundation and brand partner REEF, to expand and amplify the impacts of Surfrider’s Beach Cleanup program, and ultimately increase the amount of trash removed, volunteers engaged and cleanups hosted each year. The Better Beach Alliance seeks to bring together and empower businesses, communities, and individuals to each play a critical role in enacting meaningful change for our planet. In 2019, the Better Beach Alliance was supported once again by title sponsor REEF alongside supporting sponsors Clif Bar and Costa.

In 2019, in collaboration with the Better Beach Alliance and Surfrider Europe, the Surfrider Foundation launched the Beach Cleanup Database to better track our data in order to create solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. This database provides the tools needed to analyze our results, including access to findings from  local beaches and beaches across the nation, while sorting items by what is most commonly found. Cleanup data helps to provide support for existing plastic pollution laws and guide future policy decisions. One example of this is Bill 40 on the Island of Oahu, where a decade of beach cleanup data was pivotal to passing legislation that helped pave the way for this comprehensive piece of plastic pollution legislation. 

The 2019 Beach Cleanup Report features regional stories from our chapter network to showcase some of the ways that cleanups can be impactful at the community level. From youth engagement to bringing attention to region-specific plastic pollution, to working alongside professional sports teams, beach cleanups play an important role for volunteer engagement and truly bring communities together. 

The report also dives into microplastics and the increasing threat of these tiny plastics on our planet. Microplastics, defined as plastic particles between 1 and 5mm in length, are being found in the most remote areas of the planet. These tiny pieces of plastic are even making their way into the items we consume, including our drinking water. The Beach Cleanup Report breaks down what microplastics are and how they negatively impact the environment, wildlife and people.

You can view the complete 2019 Beach Cleanup Report here. We encourage you to connect with your local Surfrider Chapter to participate in their beach cleanup program, including solo cleanup efforts that will help keep our beaches clean while respecting social distancing guidelines. When we all work together to fight single-use plastics, we can keep our ocean and beaches clean from plastic pollution today and for future generations.