December 2, 2009

Plastic and chip bags and cigarette butts, oh my!

Every beach cleanup we host, we have everyone involved take tallies of everything they collect on the beach. This list of 47 items includes everything from fishing line to shopping carts. Looking back at this year's numbers, it is pretty shocking what we have collected so far:

At the #1 position - Cigarette Butts 25,217 pieces

Most people think that cigarette butts are made out of paper and will biodegrade quickly, the truth is they are lined with plastic and take 2-5 years to break down. The interesting thing is, smoking is illegal on all Santa Cruz beaches. If you see anyone throw a cigarette butt on the beach let them know the beach is not their trash can and offer to guide them to a trash can nearby.

#2 - Firework shells 22,342 pieces

Obviously most of these are from our Star Spangled Beach Cleanup on July 5th. The beaches are littered with evidence of the wild times from the night before. Not that I don't enjoy fireworks on the beach, but it would be great if people could cleanup after themselves...

#3 - Plastic Pieces 15,148 pieces

These include any piece of plastic that is indistinguishable as any other plastic item on the list. These plastic pieces are one of the most dangerous things that can end up in the ocean because they are often mistaken for food by sea birds or sea turtles and they are not able to digest them which can lead to death. This is why we tell our volunteers that every little piece counts when you are doing a beach cleanup.

#4 - Plastic food wrappers 8,883 pieces

Everyone loves to have a picnic on the beach, but if that includes a bag of chips of candy wrappers they can get blown away by the wind and left behind. When you are planning a picnic on the beach make sure your food is secured and opt to pack a ocean friendly picnic with reusable dishes and utensils and fresh fruit or vegetables instead of food that comes in a disposable bag.

And finally coming it at #5 - Styrofoam Pieces 7,608

This includes pieces of Styrofoam that are indistinguishable from other Styrofoam things such as to-go packaging, packing peanuts and buoys or floats. Styrofoam is another dangerous thing to go into the marine environment because, like plastic, birds, fish or sea turtles can mistake it for food. This is why the whole Monterey Bay has instated a ban on Styrofoam to-go packaging. Now when you go to a restaurant anywhere in the Monterey Bay they must provide a non-Styrofoam package. Since the ban has been in place we have seen a huge decline in Styrofoam food containers but unfortunately the pieces will stick around for a while.

What do you think of our top 5 items we pick up on the beaches? Is it what you expected?

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