This Save The Bay graphic for the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) shows a breakdown of trash pieces found along Rhode Island beaches and coastlines last year. It amounts to nearly ten tons of trash—and that’s just in the smallest U.S. state. According to the Ocean Conservancy, more than 18 million pounds of trash was collected by ICC volunteers in 2015. That’s equal to the weight of 437 whale sharks!
While cigarette butts are the biggest offender, the remainder consists of food and drink packaging: glass, metal and the dreaded plastic. Plastic pollution clogs coastlines, harms marine creatures and leaches toxins into our waters. It is believed that there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean, some floating and some in the deep sea.
How Does the Trash Get in our Water?
The bulk of it flows downstream, meaning it comes from land-based sources (litter, overflowing trash cans, sewage overflows) and gets washed into storm drains and nearby waterways. Marine debris also comes from poor waste management (sloppy disposal, lack of recycling facilities). Even when recycling is an option, people get lazy. 85% of the world’s plastic does not get recycled.
How Do We Keep It Out?
We can keep participating in coastal cleanups, however prevention is the ultimate (easier, more cost-friendly) solution for reducing marine pollution.
- Reduce the amount of packaging you use. Buy items in bulk; shop at farmers markets, secondhand stores, and yard sales. Wrap gifts in fabric, newspaper or an eco-creative gift wrap alternative.
- Choose reusable items to eliminate disposable ones. This includes everything from shopping bags, water bottles and food containers to diapers, razors and party decorations.
- Pick up litter. Whether it’s yours or not, make a habit (and an example) of cleaning up the trash you find.
- Recycle everything you can. When you’re out in public areas, bring recyclable items home. Search online for items that can’t be recycled in your curbside pickup, and you’ll often find some organization who will take it.
- Educate yourself and your kids. The more you know about how marine debris affects your family’s health and the lives of marine animals, the more invested you’ll be in preventing it.
Cigarette Butt Disposal
With cigarettes comprising one-third of total marine debris, some companies are working on solutions for eco-friendly disposal. You can save and send your cigarettes, filters, tobacco pouches, rolling paper and ashes to TerraCycle for free recycling. They specially compost the ashes and recycle the rest into useful items like pallets and park benches. In partnership with TerraCycle, some cities, including Vancouver, New Orleans, Seattle and Pittsburgh, have launched city-wide cigarette recycling efforts with butt bins posted in public spaces.
What ideas do you have to help keep trash out of our water?