International Coastal Cleanup was this weekend. Last year, nearly half a million volunteers came out for the annual event (which is organized by the Ocean Conservancy). In one day, the volunteers cleaned nearly 20,000 miles of shoreline across the globe. If you live inland, this may seem irrelevant to your life–how can your choices be impacting the coast? But when you consider the surprising source of the trash, it’s apparent that everyone’s decisions are impacting our coastlines.
Before I looked up the statistics, I assumed most of the garbage was lost gear from the fishing industry. This was an unfair assumption, and, it turns out, a false one. Of the 9 million pounds of trash collected last year, volunteers counted over 2 million cigarettes, over a million plastic bottles, and an equal number of plastic bags. Most of the trash collecting on our shorelines comes from the things we eat out of, drink out of, or pack our groceries in. The problem isn’t simply that people on the coast are tossing their trash into the ocean. Miles from the shore, plastic bags get picked up by the wind, foam coffee cups bounce down the street, and plastic forks get washed away in the rain. Eventually, all of these things end up in storm drains, which empty into the ocean. In short, you don’t have to live by the coast to be the cause of this problem.
Next September, be sure to check out the International Coastal Cleanup webpage and sign up to clean a section of beach near your home. If you don’t live near the water, it’s a great excuse to plan a vacation to the beach (Hawaii?). You never know what you may pick up–last year someone found a plastic chicken, while others hauled away 117 old mattresses.