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Clean Beaches and Plastics

It feels like summer has truly started once we reach July.  Clean Beaches Week is an annual event that occurs from July 1st to July 7th. While the resolution was not passed until 2007, Clean Beaches week has been celebrated since 2003 with the founding of the Clean Beaches Coalition. This week also coincides with the anniversary of the 2007 resolution when “the United States Senate and House of Representatives passed the National Clean Beaches Week Resolution by unanimous consent”. The week is also affectionately known as Earth Day for beaches.

Plastic usage has gone up during the pandemic. According to the Ocean Conservancy’s 2020 “What We Know—and Don’t Know—about Plastics and the Coronavirus Pandemic”, plastic bags are “among the top 10 items collected by volunteers with Ocean Conservancy’s annual International Coastal Cleanup”. Due to the pandemic, these items have been returned even in places that previously banned them citing health and safety concerns. Philadelphia’s ban on plastics began at the beginning of this month. New Jersey will also begin enforcing bans on single use plastic bags, polystyrene foam, and plastic straws.

How Much Trash are we Putting into the Ocean?

The Ocean Conservancy worked to further the U.S. Plastics Pact which was approved in 2020. The pact calls for the assessment of US plastics taking place in 2025. The project will define a list of problematic materials by 2021 and then move to make plastic 100% “reusable, recyclable, or compostable” by 2025 according to the Roadmap.

What is the impact of plastic on the ocean? Consider this; Trash Free Seas®, a part of the Ocean Conservancy has collected 339,561,464 pounds of sea trash since 1986 according to their website. That would be an average of about 9,701,756 pounds of sea trash per year.

While the goal of Clean Beaches Week is to address beach cleanliness, it is important to consider how this trash ended up in the ocean in the first place. According to the EPA 35,680,000 tons of plastic were generated in 2018. The 1960 number was about 1.1% of that, coming in at 390,000. Of the plastic generated, none was recycled in 1960. In 2018, only 8.7% was recycled and 75.6% went into a landfill.

How You can Take Action

The EPA has a few tips to reduce plastic usage, purchase in bulk, bring your own bags to shop (or start a leave a bag take a bag at your local shopping location), and bring your own reusable cup/glass/beverage container (or a glass jar or bottle,) bring a reusable beverage container to a coffee shop or bottle among others. You can also be more conscious about the products that you buy and gifts that you purchase. For example, some companies have missions to use reclaimed materials or are plastic negative certified, or have in-product descriptions of “end-of-life” (when the product has run out of a container) care.

Start your own or get a group together to clean up a beach and be a citizen scientist with the Ocean Conservancies Clean Swell App, or print out a paper form. Get started here. Alternatively, you can share this post or information about cleaning up the seas with resources from the Ocean Conservancy here.