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For First Time in Over Three Decades, Plastics Sweep Top Ten List of Items Collected during Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup

Glass Beverage Bottles Edged Out as Plastic Production Grows

WASHINGTON, DC – Ocean Conservancy released the results of its 2017 International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) today, reporting that for the first time since the inception of the ICC more than 30 years ago, all ten of the top-ten items collected by volunteers around the world were made of plastic, edging out glass beverage bottles from the list.

“Over the years, we have seen plastics creeping into the top-ten list, displacing items like rope, beverage cans and paper bags,” said Nicholas Mallos, director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas® program. “But this is the first year that all ten of the top-ten items collected are made of plastic. Given that plastic production is rising, this could be the start of a long and troubling trend.”

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 Clean Swell mobile app.

In all, 789,138 volunteers in more than 100 countries collected nearly 20.5 million pounds (or 9.3 million kilograms) of trash during last year’s ICC. As in previous years, cigarette butts—which contain plastic filters—topped the list at approximately 2.4 million collected; with food wrappers (1.7 million), plastic beverage bottles (1.6 million), plastic bottle caps (1.1 million), and plastic grocery bags (757,523) rounding out the top five. When looking at grocery bags and other plastic bags (trash bags, newspaper bags, etc.) together, more than 1.5 million were collected in total.

With these latest results, nearly 13 million volunteers have collected nearly 250 million pounds of trash from beaches and waterway worldwide since 1986, when Ocean Conservancy first mobilized the annual International Coastal Cleanup.

“What sets the ICC apart is our emphasis on data collection,” said George Leonard, Ocean Conservancy’s chief scientist, “and data are critically needed if we are to find meaningful solutions to the ocean plastic crisis.”

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 plastic, which 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, beach cleanups remain important tools.

“The ICC raises awareness of ocean health and conservation issues and connects individuals to the problem of marine debris in a deeply personal and tangible way,” said Allison Schutes, associate director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas® program. “And thanks to the amazing work of our coordinators and volunteers, cleanups have measurable impact. Every item of debris removed is one less item putting ocean wildlife at risk.”

The 2018 International Coastal Cleanup will be held on September 15th. Visit signuptocleanup.org to register and take part in keeping our beaches, coasts and waterways free of trash and plastic.

Partners

As part of its commitment to address global climate change, Bank of America has supported the Cleanup since 2002, with thousands of employees participating in Cleanup events all around the world. The Coca-Cola Foundation has supported Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup for more than two decades. Each year Coca-Cola activates a global employee engagement campaign to encourage participation in the Cleanup. Other national sponsors of the 2017 International Coastal Cleanup include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Altria Group, Inc., the Forrest C. & Frances H. Lattner Foundation, Pacific Life Foundation, Brunswick Public Foundation, Cox Enterprises, Inc., the Dow Chemical Company and the Martin Foundation.

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Note to editors: A PDF of the 2018 ICC Report, along with select photos and infographics, are available at this link. Ocean Conservancy experts are available for comment.

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