In past years the greatest type of debris by number was cigarettes/smoking items with over 16,000 collected. This year’s number of plastic pieces highlights an increasing problem of plastics in ocean debris.
In addition to removing thousands of pounds of trash, volunteers contributed to the world’s largest database on marine debris by logging each trash item in Ocean Conservancy’s Clean Swell app (available for free download from the Apple App Store and Google Play). Scientists, researchers, industry leaders, and policymakers rely on Ocean Conservancy’s Ocean Trash Index to create policy and determine solutions to the growing marine debris crisis.
Every year, millions of tons of trash, including an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic waste, flow into the ocean, entangling wildlife, polluting beaches, and costing coastal municipalities hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars. Items like cigarette butts, plastic bags, beverage bottles, food wrappers, plastic bottle caps, and plastic straws are among the most-commonly collected items and are among the deadliest to wildlife like seabirds and sea turtles. Plastics which never fully biodegrade, but rather break up into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics, are of particular concern. Plastic production and consumption are projected to double in the next 10 years. If nothing changes, this could mean the amount of plastics in the ocean could increase to 250 million metric tons.
Keeping our oceans free from trash is one of the easiest ways to improve the health of our planet. From participating in beach cleanups to creating less trash, we can all play a part in keeping our ocean clean and free of trash.