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A Voice for our Ocean

REPORT: Ahead of Plastic Free July, Ocean Conservancy Names Five Products to Eliminate Right Now for Plastic-Free Beaches

New report charts course to cutting 1.4 million tons of plastic from circulation nationwide every year.

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Washington, D.C. – With Plastic Free July just around the corner, Ocean Conservancy has announced its new report, “Charting a Course to Plastic Free Beaches,” which uses nearly 40 years of beach cleanup data from the organization’s International Coastal Cleanup® (ICC) to target 10 single-use plastic items most commonly polluting shorelines around the world. Part one, released today, calls for source reduction policies like bans for plastic foam foodware, bags, utensils, straws, and cigarette butt filters.

“This report leverages decades of International Coastal Cleanup data to forge a clear path of action so that we can all make the dream of plastic-free beaches a reality,” said Nicholas Mallos, Vice President of Ocean Plastics at Ocean Conservancy. “The first step is simple: take the worst offenders off of shelves.”

The five items highlighted in todays’ report are among the 10 most common plastic items collected by ICC volunteers since the cleanup effort began in 1986. The report, which provides case studies and examples of policy actions to address each item, estimates that bans on these five items across the U.S. would cut plastics usage by about 450 billion pieces each year. That would be equivalent to eliminating roughly 1.4 million tons of plastics in the United States alone, or roughly 1,000 fewer single-use plastic products and packaging for each person in the U.S. annually. Making less plastic also helps fight climate change: eliminating these products means roughly 7 million metric tons fewer CO2e emissions are produced every year, the equivalent of taking 1.5 million cars off the road for a year.

“We have nearly 40 years’ worth of cleanup data showing that these five items are some of the most common and harmful types of plastics found on beaches worldwide, and what ties them all together is that the only viable solution is to eliminate them altogether,” said Dr. Anja Brandon, associate director of U.S. plastics policy at Ocean Conservancy. “Not only would eliminating these items have an immediate positive impact on beaches and waterways, but it would also help us improve recycling by keeping some of the most common non-recyclable items from mucking up our waste stream.”

An analysis of ICC data published in 2021 showed that nearly 70% of the most common items polluting beaches – including these five items – are effectively unrecyclable. Part two of the report, which will be released in the coming months, will cover how reuse systems can help reduce our reliance on the remaining top 10 items; while part three will focus on the policy solutions needed to fix plastics recycling.

Since 1986, nearly 18 million volunteers have collected 350 million pounds of trash and tallied over 381 million items from beaches and waterways around the world.

“Data are what set the International Coastal Cleanup apart from other beach cleanup efforts,” said Allison Schutes, Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup director. “For over three decades, volunteers have done the incredible and often tedious work of recording every piece of trash they collect because it drives change: scientists, policymakers, journalists, and countless others have used the International Coastal Cleanup dataset to better understand and help tackle the global plastic pollution problem. With this report, our hope is that these data can continue to drive policies that stop plastic pollution at the source.”

Data submitted through Ocean Conservancy paper data cards or its mobile app, Clean Swell®, are uploaded to Ocean Conservancy’s global Ocean Trash Database. In 2022 and 2023 alone, over 50 peer-reviewed scientific papers and published book chapters cited ICC data. ICC data have also been used to support policies that tackle single-use plastics, including recent stories about Illinois’ ban on foam foodware; Hawaii’s proposed plastic bottle ban; and Laguna Beach’s recently passed balloon ban.

This year’s International Coastal Cleanup will take place throughout the month of September. To learn more, visit



Experts are available for interviews upon request. A media kit with photos, b-roll, and a downloadable version of the report can be found here.


Cigarette Butts 59,398,908
Food Wrappers (candy, chips, etc.) 28,445,467
Beverage Bottles 21,810,732
Plastic Bags (Grocery and Other) 21,538,520
Bottle Caps 16,903,325
Straws, Stirrers 14,643,574
Foam Foodware (Take Out Containers and Cups, Plates) 7,951,707
Cups, Plates 7,278,840
Lids 6,736,583
Forks, Knives, Spoons 6,343,756


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

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Madeline Black




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