Clean Ocean Action Unveils Beach Sweeps Report

Apr 02, 2019

On the eve of its state-wide beach sweep on Saturday, April 13, Clean Ocean Action recently released the 2018 Beach Sweeps report. COA highlighted the 12 most commonly collected items (“The Dirty Dozen”) along with the most outrageous finds (“The Roster of the Ridiculous”) and detailed the breakdown of the total 454,365 pieces of marine debris collected by a record 10,148  volunteers.

Beach Sweeps is New Jersey’s largest volunteer-driven, citizen science and environmental event with more than 60 site locations in 2018.

“These record numbers speak for themselves,” said Cindy Zipf, COA executive director. “The data shows evidence of our littering ways, yet also confirms that people small and tall care deeply about the ocean and beaches. Every piece collected is a compassionate demonstration by the extraordinary volunteers who take time to celebrate the ocean and rid the beaches of litter. They know it’s not only ugly, it’s harmful.

“The data volunteers provide is also being used to take action and reduce sources of plastic such as single use plastic bans that towns, cities, states, and countries are now implementing.”

She said thousands of citizens along the Jersey Shore not only sweep the beaches of litter, but also document the debris piece by piece. The data collected creates a legacy of information that is used to fight for better anti-litter programs and educate people about the harm caused by marine debris to the economy and wildlife. The spring event coincides with Earth Month to provide citizens with an educational, hands-on, meaningful, rewarding activity to make a real difference.

As in previous years, the majority of the debris removed was single-use plastic. The total amount of plastic waste removed was 81.77 percent, including foam.

“The evidence is clear: Society’s epidemic use of disposable plastic items is increasing and adding litter to beaches, harm to marine life and negative impacts to water quality,” said Zipf. “Plastics collect contaminants and break down into smaller and smaller bits, ultimately becoming microplastics. Overall, plastics are causing significant threats to the food chain.”

The total amount of the Dirty Dozen is 72 percent of all trash removed, with persistent and harmful plastic dominating the list. This demonstrates the prevalence of plastic in our growing disposable society. In 2018, 93 percent of the Dirty Dozen debris collected was plastic.

Plastic caps/lids made No. 2 of the Dirty Dozen list in 2018 with 61,358 pieces collected. This figure is up from the 50,881 caps/lids collected in 2017. Straws/stirrers made No. 4 on the Dirty Dozen list and are also up, from 31,167 collected in 2017 to 36,156 collected in 2018.

The report also details substantial increases or decreases (more than 20) as compared to 2017.  Significant increases were in plastic pieces, plastic bottles, diapers and glass pieces. Plastic pieces, the No. 1 item, increased from 56,201 in 2017 to 75,899 in 2018. Decreases were seen in cigarette filters, tires and metal fishing sinkers.

Balloons increased by 32.16 percent in 2018 when compared to 2017. In 2018, volunteers collected 5,470 balloons (mylar and rubber), exceeding the previous record of 4,159 balloons from 2011 by 31.52 percent.

“Every year, the Beach Sweeps data provides valuable, and at times alarming, insight into trends in marine debris,” stated Alison McCarthy, coastal watershed protection coordinator for COA. “Despite growing awareness about marine debris overall, balloons are flying and hit a record high of 5,470 balloons. This is evidence that more enforcement is needed to prevent litter in the form of intentional balloon releases.”

Highlights from 2018 include using COA’s Beach Sweep data to help pass a statewide smoking ban on New Jersey’s beaches, urging Gov. Murphy to veto and fix the state-wide Bag Fee Bill, and supporting 15 municipalities that passed local ordinances to ban single-use products.

“Interestingly, in the same year that New Jersey banned smoking on public beaches and in public parks, cigarette filters decreased by over 24 percent from 2017. While this trend is promising, we are anticipating a rise in e-cigarette waste, which we will begin to monitor in addition to other new single-use plastic items including dental floss picks and cotton swabs,” added McCarthy.

Some of the “Roster of the Ridiculous” items included two cases of beer, car bumpers, ship anchor, no-parking sign, AC unit, bedpan, Barbie and Ken dolls and a Christmas tree, among many others.

On Saturday, April 13, volunteers will meet at two locations at 9 a.m.: Wally’s at 712 Long Beach Blvd. in Surf City and the Centre Street beach entrance in Beach Haven. Trash bags and cleaning equipment will be provided. Volunteers are urged to bring work gloves.

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— Eric Englund

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