Coast News

The Value of International Cleanups

Beach and ocean cleanups have become one of the staples in addressing the ocean plastic crisis. With recent studies showing that between 70% and 80% of ocean plastic is located on shorelines, the importance of cleanups and the analysis of the plastic is more important than ever.

Understanding what categories of plastic are found on shorelines and in coastal waters helps scientists and advocates tackle ocean trash at a global scale, according to the Ocean Conservancy,which hosts the largest and oldest annual international cleanup.

Since 1986, the International Coastal Cleanup has mobilized more than 17 million volunteers to remove nearly 350 million pounds of trash from beaches and waterways worldwide. In addition to collecting trash, volunteers log every item they find and contribute to the world’s largest repository of marine debris data.

In 2021, the top items collected by International Coastal Cleanup volunteers were plastic food wrappers (1,341,463), cigarette butts (1,134,292), and plastic beverage bottles (849,321). In 2021 alone, at least 27 peer-reviewed scientific publications cited International Coastal Cleanup data. The data has also been used to support policies that tackle single-use plastic: in the last year, International Coastal Cleanup data were cited in stories about California’s recently passed single-use food ware product ban, Virginia’s balloon release ban, and Florida’s proposed bill permitting smoking bans on beaches.

The Conservancy has also developed the Clean Swell® app, so cleanup volunteers can digitally record each item of trash they collect, which makes it easier to document the types of plastic found.

The Ocean Conservancy cleanup is typically held on the 3rd Saturday of September. This year’s cleanup will be held on September 17, 2022.

The Ocean Conservancy provides a map of organizations around the world coordinating local cleanups to make it easy for volunteers to participate.

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