Sustainability

International Coastal Cleanup highlights plastic issue

International Coastal Cleanup highlights plastic issue
More than 8,000 tonnes of rubbish were collected by nearly 800,000 volunteers during the Ocean Conservancy’s 2015 International Coastal Cleanup, according to a report released by the body at the United Nations Environment Assembly today (26 May).

The Ocean Conservancy is a charity that works to protect the ocean and the communities that depend on it. Its ‘Ocean Trash Index’ is an item-by-item and location-by-location database of materials found in near-shore environments during its cleanups.

The 2015 International Coastal Cleanup, which was led in the UK in September by the Marine Conservation Society, collected 8,193 tonnes of litter – the equivalent, the charity says, to the weight of more than 100 Boeing 737s.

Events from 93 different countries were logged during the 2015 cleanup, covering over 25,000 miles of coast. In total, 5,920 people took part in the UK event, the 18th highest involvement worldwide.

Over 75,000 people took part in cleanups in Hong Kong, 200,000 in the United States and over 250,000 in the Philippines, where more than 400,000 pieces of litter were collected over just under 600 miles of coastline. These items collectively weighed more than 300 tonnes.

The 2015 event marked the 30th anniversary of the Ocean Conservancy's database, which has to date logged and removed more than 225 million items of rubbish from beaches and waterways.

Plastic debris a ‘growing concern’

Publication of the cleanup’s report comes in the same week that Eunomia Research & Consulting released research findings that suggest that efforts to combat plastic pollution of the sea should focus on beaches, where around two tonnes of plastic waste can be found in every square kilometre.

International Coastal Cleanup highlights plastic issue
Plastic debris remains a growing concern in the marine environment, with Eunomia reporting that 12.2 million tonnes of plastic is entering the sea every year. During the 2015 international cleanup, the top five most commonly collected items were cigarette butts, plastic beverage bottles, food wrappers, plastic bottle caps and plastic straws, respectively. All are forms of plastic debris.

Indeed, when laid end to end, the number of straws collected could extend to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest point on earth at almost 11,000 metres below sea level, and back to sea level three times.

The environmental impact of microplastics was also mentioned in the Eunomia presentation, and is currently being investigated by the government’s Environmental Audit Committee. The Ocean Conservancy report counted 1,332,799 pieces of plastic measuring less than 2.5 centimetres being collected during the cleanups.

Late last year, the Ocean Conservancy was part of a collaboration that produced a report stating that recycling initiatives in five Asian countries could reduce global plastic waste leakage by 45 per cent.

The ‘Stemming the Tide’ report, which was also worked on by the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment, suggested that improving recycling processes in China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, through closing leakage points within collection systems, increasing waste collection and manual sorting of high-value plastic waste and also using new technologies in waste treatment, could have a profound effect.   

A beach cleanup in Ghana
Taking action

The Ocean Conservancy says that existing data and experiences from collection has allowed a number of cleanup coordinators to note the pattern of waste items collected and subsequently independently attempt local solutions to divert solid waste before it enters the marine environment. One example of this can be found in Kenya, where this week’s United Nations Environment Assembly is taking place.

Steve Trott, Projects Development Manager for Watamu Marine Association and a cleanup coordinator in Kenya explained: “The Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup has inspired Kenyans to take action. In Watamu Marine Park, community based entrepreneurship is turning the tide on marine debris impacting our beaches.

“All plastic, glass and flip-flop waste is recycled creating a waste recycling value chain. Turning trash into cash along the Kenya coast is creating local solutions to a global problem and generating incomes for impoverished communities.”

Work of volunteers helping to develop solutions

Launching the report into the Ocean Conservancy’s 2015 International Coastal Cleanup and the updated Ocean Trash Index in Nairobi this week, Nicholas Mallos, Director of the charity’s Trash Free Seas programme said: “This database is the cumulative result of more than 11.5 million volunteers helping us to better assess the problem of trash in near-shore environments over 30 years, and they have my immense gratitude.

“Because of them, not only are our beaches cleaner and healthier, but we have this remarkable dataset that we and other researchers are using to develop solutions to make sure our trash never reaches the beach.”

Allison Schutes, Senior Manager for the Trash Free Seas programme, added: “It’s exciting to see the cleanup grow each year. Volunteers are not only removing more trash from beaches, but they are also contributing to a better understanding of the types of waste entering the ocean.”

Clean Swell app

The Clean Swell app
The charity has also launched the Clean Swell app, which enables individuals to add data to its marine debris database by logging the rubbish they find while at the beach on their mobiles. The Ocean Conservancy says that the database is used by scientists, conservation groups, governments and industry leaders to take actions and ensure trash never reaches the beach.

Schutes added: “With the launch of our Clean Swell mobile app, I’m excited for these dedicated volunteers to be able to easily collect more robust data as we work to better understand marine debris and work to keep it off beaches and out of the ocean.”

This year's International Coastal Cleanup will take place on the weekend of 17 September.

Much more information on the 2015 International Coastal Cleanup can be found in the Ocean Conservancy’s report.