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A Voice for Our Ocean

Ahead of 34th International Coastal Cleanup, Ocean Conservancy Report Reveals Prevalence of Plastic Cutlery on Beaches, Waterways

Ocean Conservancy Urges Public to “Quit the Cutlery” and Join Million-Strong Movement to Clean Up Our Ocean September 21

Washington, D.C. – Ocean Conservancy released the results of the 2018 International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) today, revealing a surprising new addition to the top ten list of items collected by volunteers around the world: plastic cutlery. The report comes just as beach season comes to a close in the U.S. and less than a month before the 34th annual ICC, scheduled for Saturday, September 21.

Ocean Conservancy has been tabulating plastic forks, spoons and knives as a separate category since 2013; and 2018 is the first year that plastic cutlery ranks among the top ten most commonly collected items.

“Plastic forks, knives and spoons are ranked among the most harmful types of marine debris to ocean animals, and the 2018 ICC data show that they may be a lot more prevalent than we had previously suspected,” said Nicholas Mallos, senior director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas® program. “In addition to skipping the straw, we hope people see this and choose to quit the cutlery, too—by bringing their own when planning to eat on the go.”

Ocean Conservancy has urged those that are able to “Skip the Straw” since 2014, as plastic straws and stirrers have consistently been among the top ten most-collected items during the ICC each year. Plastic straws are unique in that they are not recyclable, and many people do not need them. However, research published in Marine Policy in 2015 by Ocean Conservancy scientists showed that fishing gear, plastic bags and utensils, balloons, cigarette butts, and plastic bottle caps are the deadliest forms of ocean trash. These items are often mistaken for food or ingested by seabirds, turtles, and other ocean animals.

In addition to highlighting the threat of plastic cutlery, the 2018 ICC was also the first to reach more than 1 million volunteers around the world.

“We are so moved by the incredible turnout in 2018, and we are gearing up for another million-strong volunteers showing up this year,” said Ocean Conservancy CEO Janis Searles Jones. “The ICC numbers speak for themselves: together, we can make a difference – for our community, for our coasts, and for our ocean.”

In all, 1,080,358 volunteers in more than 120 countries collected 23.3 million pounds (or 10.6 million kilograms) of trash during last year’s ICC. As in previous years, cigarette butts—which contain plastic filters—topped the list at approximately 5.7 million collected; with food wrappers (just over 3.7 million), plastic straws and stirrers (just under 3.7 million), plastic cutlery (nearly 2 million), and plastic beverage bottles (nearly 1.8 million) rounding out the top five.

In years past, volunteers have recovered wedding dresses, washing machines, mattresses, and more. Notable “weird finds” from the 2018 ICC included a chandelier, a fake Christmas tree, a garage door, and a cash register. Globally, volunteers recovered more than 69,000 toys and over 16,000 appliances.

With these latest results, more than 15 million volunteers have collected nearly 315 million pounds of trash from beaches and waterway worldwide since 1986, when Ocean Conservancy first mobilized the annual International Coastal Cleanup.

The figures are based on the work of ICC coordinators and volunteers worldwide who, in addition to cleaning beaches and waterways, contribute to the world’s largest database on marine debris by logging each trash item on a paper data card or into Ocean Conservancy’s award-nominated Clean Swell mobile app.

Scientists, researchers, industry leaders and policymakers rely on Ocean Conservancy’s Ocean Trash Index to inform policy and determine solutions to the growing ocean plastic pollution crisis. Every year, an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic waste flow into the ocean. More than 800 animal species have been impacted by plastics, which may never fully biodegrade but rather break up into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics.

Though a suite of solutions—including investments to improve waste management in certain geographies—are needed to stem the tide of plastic in the ocean, cleanups remain important tools.

“What makes plastic pollution so unique among the challenges facing our ocean is how visible it is, and how everyone can be a force for change,” said Allison Schutes, director of Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup. “Taking part in a cleanup is often an eye-opening moment for volunteers that leads to year-round and lifelong stewardship.”

The 2019 International Coastal Cleanup will be held on Saturday, September 21. Visit signuptocleanup.org to register and take part in keeping our beaches, coasts and waterways free of trash and plastic.

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About Ocean Conservancy

Ocean Conservancy is working with you to protect the ocean from today’s greatest global challenges. Together, we create science-based solutions for a healthy ocean and the wildlife and communities that depend on it. For more information, visit www.oceanconservancy.org, or follow us on FacebookTwitter or Instagram.

About Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas® Program

Ocean Conservancy has led the fight for a clean, trash-free ocean since 1986, when the organization launched its first annual International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) on a beach in Texas. Since then, the ICC has expanded to over 150 countries and has mobilized millions of volunteers to remove more than 300 million pounds of trash from beaches and waterways around the globe, all the while logging each item and building the world’s largest database on marine debris.

Partners

American Express teamed up with Ocean Conservancy beginning in 2018 and together over the past year hosted a series of cleanups spanning from Malaysia to Florida. The Coca-Cola Foundation remains a longtime ICC partner and has supported the global event for more than two decades, supporting cleanups around the world as well as new and innovative work to stem the tide of trash leaking into the ocean. Since 2000, Bank of America has partnered with Ocean Conservancy in support of the ICC to keep our ocean clean and thriving across the globe. Other national supporting partners of the 2019 International Coastal Cleanup include Breitling, Dow, the Forrest C. & Frances H. Lattner Foundation, Garnier, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Pacific Life Foundation, The Starbucks Foundation, The Philip Stephenson Foundation, Brunswick Public Foundation, Cox Enterprises, the Martin Foundation and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd.