Beach Cleanups Exposed: Beyond the Beach

As mentioned in yesterday’s blog post about the Ocean Conservancy’s 25-year report, the data extracted from beach cleanups can influence political, industrial and social change.  Take a long walk on this beach with me…

GOVERNMENT and POLICY

Cigarette butts have long since been the number one item found by Coastkeeper on San Diego’s beaches.  This is the same the world over, and has held its number one spot for the past 25 years.  Because of this statistic, garnished from our data collection, this hard evidence was used to support a smoking ban on our beaches and parks which passed in 2006.  Our cleanup data allows us to identify problems, track their the source, design solutions and take action by advocating for the solution.  

So, what are the sources?  Nine out of the top ten items of the past 25 years were disposable consumer items.  These items clearly do not belong in the environment.  They are threats to local and global eco-systems as they entangle wildlife, infiltrate the food chain and photodegrade into microplastics that can never be cleaned up.  We try to eliminate the source of these items, but we as consumers create the demand for them.  Fortunately, they are not a necessity.  We can easily bring our own bag, bottle or to-go ware; it is simply that we are so comfortable with the convenience of these disposable plastics, we can’t be bothered to remember.  In order to help us along, we must influence the supply to lessen the demand, thus eliminating these one-time-use, wasteful items as an option.  Policy change in response to single-use plastic has been happening all over the globe to reduce the land waste and hazards to the ocean.  This is a solution to eliminate the “source” of marine debris.

Policy change:

  • As of 2008, it is illegal to give away single-use plastic bags in China—previously the TOP consumer of single-use plastic bags.
  • A 2002 bag levy in Ireland led to usage drop of 90%.
  • Washington, D.C., implemented a 5 cent bag fee and a saw usage drop significantly from 22.5 million bags in 2009 to 3 million bags in 2010.
  • Italy became the first country to outright BAN the single-use plastic bag on January 1, 2011.
  • San Francisco was the first U.S. city to ban the single-use plastic bag in 2007.
  • In 1990, Virginia volunteers picked up 30 pounds of balloons; by 1991 a law was passed to prohibit mass balloon releases.

top-items-beaches-international

INDUSTRY

Another way to track the source even further back is by working directly with the industries that manufacture these items.  Decreasing landfill space in Europe sparked a trendy tactic called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), designed to promote the integration of environmental costs associated with goods throughout their life cycles into the market price of the products.  Basically necessitating that the manufacturer covers the costs of recycling or proper disposal, and makes sure it happens.  

Innovative Industry changes we have seen:

  • Coca Cola created a 30% plant-based soda bottle in 2009.
  • Pepsi launched their 100% plant-based soda bottle in March.
  • Electrolux is making vacuum cleaners out of photo-degraded plastic bits from the Eastern Pacific Gyre.
  • Nike gave their 2010 World Cup soccer teams jerseys made from 100% recycled polyester.  They collected 13 million plastic bottles from Japanese and Taiwanese landfills, melted to produce yarn, converted to fabric for about 8 bottles per shirt.
  • Jack Johnson displaced 55,000 plastic water bottles on his 2010 US summer tour by providing water stations with filtered water.

Locally, businesses can get involved in being a part of the solution and data collection effort by sponsoring a beach cleanup through Coastkeeper.  In April, Earth Month, seven of our 11 cleanups are with local organizations or corporations (Pepsi, Peregrine Semiconductors, Cox Communications, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Source 44, 31st Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation, as well as partnering on an event with Whole Foods.

SOCIETY

All marine initiatives depend on residents who understand why the ocean needs to be protected and preserved in order to build the connection and motivation for how.  The Ocean Conservancy’s report is a wonderful resource to help inform communities and it is available to be shared. Coastkeeper makes cutting edge ocean and water-related information readily available both online as well as through our quarterly Signs of the Tide outreach events. Fortunately, because of our data from inland and coastal beach cleanups, coupled with the geographically broad data supplied by the International Coastal Cleanup Day, our approach to tackling marine debris has become much more sophisticated.  As long as the volunteers keep coming to help collect this essential data, we can continue protecting and preserving our waterways.

Published in Marine Debris

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