Study Shows Global Scale of Plastic Pollution
Beach cleanups have become more than a neighborly way to keep our coasts and oceans more pristine. The trash that’s fished from the sand and water allows researchers to determine its origins.
It also may lead to tactics for plugging the plastics problem.
Laura Parker, a National Geographic staff writer who specializes in covering climate change and marine environments, wrote in October: “[Beach cleanups] add to the growing body of knowledge about where and how plastics travel across the seas and where they end up in the greatest abundance. Documentation of what cleanup volunteers collect and its density from location to location and what items are most and least abundant helps identify hot spots. Some of what’s learned can make a difference.”
Throngs of volunteers comb the world’s beaches and remove a mountain of trash each year. The biggest assault, which was conducted in September by the Ocean Conservancy, has collected an estimated 300 million pounds of debris over the past 30 years.
Scientists keep a close watch on the items retrieved from beaches.
“If the top item found is tires, we’re talking about illegal dumping,” says Kara Lavender Law, a research oceanography professor at the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. “If it’s bottle caps and cigarette butts, it is probably litter.”
National Geographic reported, “On isolated Saint Helena in the South Atlantic, mid-way between Brazil and Namibia, Ocean Conservancy volunteers discovered ‘an exorbitant number’ of plastic bottles on one beach ... An audit of the brand names on the bottles revealed that none of them were sold on the island, but came from Asian countries thousands of miles away. Piecing the story together, the group concluded the bottle trash had not leaked from poor waste practices on the island, but rather more likely came from traveling fishing fleets working nearby waters.”
Plastic became the king of clutter in 2017. For the first time, the top 10 items retrieved that year were plastics that included cigarette butts with plastic filters, food wrappers, bottles, bottle caps and shopping bags.
Greenpeace is part of a consortium of environmental groups cataloging the items gathered at 236 beach cleanups in 42 countries. An audit of the items found that the brands most often retrieved belong to Coca Cola, PepsiCo and Nestle.
That’s no real surprise since Coke annually manufactures 128 billion bottles of soft drinks and bottled water, while Nestle is the world’s largest food and beverage producer, and PepsiCo is global in scope with six major divisions.
“What we are doing is moving the conversation upstream and identifying responsibility not with the person who consumes the Coke, but to have a conversation about who made that bottle in the first place and who is responsible for that bottle once it is consumed,” said Jane Patton, who authored the Greenpeace audit report.
“We are calling for the corporations to urgently and immediately stop over-packaging their products, to redesign products so waste can be eliminated, and to take responsibility for the waste once it ends up in the environment.”
Stemming the tide of trash is a major drain on local coffers.
One study found the beach cleanup cost for 90 towns in Washington, Oregon and California was estimated at more than $500 million. The expenditure is needed to keep pollution at bay and tourism dollars flowing.
We here at Coast Apparel urge our friends to lend a hand whenever possible – whether it’s by taking part in a cleanup, using less plastic or simply donating to the cause. We donate 5% of the sale price of our specially curated Coast is Clear products that include tee shirts, reusable straws, shopping bags and water bottles.