The next time you go beachcombing, you may find more than just seashells.
According to recent reports released by the Ocean Conservancy, an environmental nonprofit based in D.C., a slew of household items including 28 barbecue grills, 14 couches, 114 pairs of sunglasses, and 39 hair brushes were found washed up on beaches around the world just last year. These findings, among many others, were collected during the organization’s 2017 International Coastal Cleanup, an annual volunteer-powered event hosted to raise awareness on ocean pollution.
“You would be amazed at what volunteers find every year along beaches and waterways,” said Allison Schutes, associate director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas® program, in a press release. “No matter where you are in the world, chances are you’ll see plastic bottles, bottle caps, straws, packaging… then you get items where you just have to wonder, ‘how did this get here?’”
Of course 152 deodorant sticks, 427 makeup products, and over 30,000 articles of clothing don’t belong in our waterways. That’s why the eco-org has been on a mission to keep the oceans as free from trash as possible, hosting its first coastal clean-up in 1986. Today, hundreds of thousands of volunteers unite each year for the event in more than 100 countries worldwide to clean up their communities and local waterways.
To help organize their findings during these events—and contribute to the organization’s massive trash index—volunteers log any items collected in the Ocean Conservancy’s Clean Swell App (free to download on iOS and Android). This logged information is then available to scientists, researchers, and policymakers to help them find solutions to the global marine debris problem.
And while it may be crazy to think that 152 shopping carts, 719 golf balls, and 392 juice boxes found their way into the oceans and onto a shore, Nicholas Mallos, director of the organization’s Trash Free Seas® program, reminds us these findings also pose a health risk—both to humans and marine life. “There’s this idea that the ocean is so vast that it can just swallow up anything,” said Mallos. “But the reality is that trash, specifically plastics, can have a serious impact on ocean health.”
Currently, about 8 million tons of plastic pollution end up in the ocean. Once these plastic beverage bottles, straws, and other debris begin to break up into smaller pieces, they pose a threat to seabirds, sea turtles, and fish who may mistake the plastic particles as food. “By highlighting what gets left behind on shorelines and river banks, we inspire people to take action for trash-free seas," says Mallos, "And identify trash items for which innovative solutions are most needed.”