The Science of Sustainability

Coastal Cleanup by the Numbers

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Plastic bottle

For one day this weekend, as they have for the last 25 years, hundreds of thousands of volunteers around the world will gather on beaches, rivers, lakes, and streams to collect and document shoreline trash during the annual International Coastal Cleanup event.  By the numbers, here’s some of what they’ve picked up over the years:

Over one million beverage bottles each year

7,825,319 plastic bags with over 1 million in 2009 alone

Nearly 53 MILLION cigarette butts

Enough cups, plates, knives, forks, and spoons for a picnic for 100,000 people just in 2009

144 million pounds of trash equivalent in weight to 41,210 sedans

Waste on the beach

The data generated by the annual coastal cleanup event has been key in developing both new policies to better protect the environment and innovative products and technologies to reduce the amount of waste that can end up in our waterways.  Check out the Ocean Conservancy’s 2011 Marine Debris Report (see the "Dive Deeper" section) for some heartening statistics and stories.  They crunch the numbers from all the data cards volunteers generate from the cleanup each year. Innovations reported include the development of new six-pack rings designed to break apart and photo-degrade in 3-4 weeks during summer, and 3-4 months during winter.  This can help reduce wildlife deaths from entanglement.  Also, they report over 9 million miles of fishing line have been recycled since 1990.

Locally, Donna Cuoco, long-time secretary at Crown Memorial State Beach, has made a difference by getting grant money to install cigarette butt disposal bins along the beach.  This has helped keep hundreds of thousands of butts from becoming litter that’s a hazard to migratory birds and other wildlife.

Cigarette Butt

So be a hero and join a cleanup event tomorrow.  You can also take the Trash Free Seas pledge and become a Recycling Ninja with a cool downloadable wallet recycling guide or find out about where you can recycle many different items close to home with this database from Stopwaste.org.  Together we can better protect and enjoy the Bay and oceans we love.

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Category: Blog, Environment

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Sharol Nelson-Embry

About the Author ()

Sharol Nelson-Embry is the Supervising Naturalist at the Crab Cove Visitor Center & Aquarium on San Francisco Bay in Alameda. Crab Cove is part of the East Bay Regional Park District, one of the largest and oldest regional park agencies in the nation. She graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo with a degree in Natural Resources Management and an epiphany that connecting kids with nature was her destiny. She's been rooted in the Bay Area since 1991 after working at nature centers and outdoor science schools around our fair state. She loves the great variety of habitats stretching from the Bay shoreline to the redwoods, lakes, and hills. Sharol enjoys connecting people to nature with articles in local newspapers and online forums. Read her previous contributions to QUEST, a project dedicated to exploring the Science of Sustainability.
  • Cal

    It is a great thing to do, everyone should do it! Amazing what we are doing to the planet – no wonder it sometimes feels like it is hitting back!

  • Nancy

    When I cleaned up the coastline last Earth Day, I was shocked to find not only so much trash but also hypodermic needles that apparently were DUMPED by unscrupulous medical waste companies that collect them from hospitals and then don't dispose of them correctly.
    We need to continue this effort to keep our beaches clean!

  • Joan

    Thanks for the eye opener and the heightened awareness that our actions have dire consequences for our planet. I continue to be surprised (and shocked) by the plethora of plastic containers strewn along our shoreline. We need to be more mindful about our environment. When we all pitch in, we all benefit.

  • Sharol

    Here's a good TEDTalk about living plastic-free (you can also check out her blog for tips): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3JXWRVrFiKs&feature=youtube_gdata