Counting the Tides of Trash

Ocean Conservancy is marking its 24th International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) on September 19, 2009, to encourage the greening of the world’s oceans and coasts—and calculating the many tons of trash collected in the process. Born out of one Texas woman’s desire to clean up a South Padre Island beach and mobilize thousands of volunteers in 1986, the Cleanup has since become a worldwide movement with over a million participants throughout North America and abroad.

Volunteers collect, sort through and count all of the debris to put a numeric value on the garbage found.

“Trash doesn’t fall from the sky, it falls from our hands,” says Michele Capots, media relations manager for Ocean Conservancy. “A candy wrapper thrown down on a city street in Warsaw or Wichita washes and blows down a storm drain, river, lake or stream and can eventually find its way to the ocean.”

In 2007, nearly 400,000 people volunteered worldwide to clean up 33,000 miles of coastal land and collect more than six million pounds of trash. The most popular debris recovered? Cigarette butts and filters, with 1,971,551 found on coastlines, followed by food wrappers and containers (693,612), caps and lids (656,088) and plastic bags (587,827).

“Our goal would be to pick up less trash every year, not more, because then we know that awareness has caused the public to be less apt to litter or dump trash,” says Lourdes Ferris, executive director of Keep Palm Beach County Beautiful, a group that participates in ICC.