Beach Cleanup Tally: 6 Million Pounds of Trash Last September, the Ocean Conservancy sponsored a worldwide beach cleanup effort. It released its findings this week: 6 million pounds of garbage was cleared from beaches in a single day. Environmentalist Sarah Abramson discusses where this trash comes from and what can be done about it.
NPR logo

Beach Cleanup Tally: 6 Million Pounds of Trash

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/89787388/89787375" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Beach Cleanup Tally: 6 Million Pounds of Trash

Beach Cleanup Tally: 6 Million Pounds of Trash

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/89787388/89787375" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

JACKI LYDEN, host:

From the Arctic to the beach now and a story that might have shore-lovers stepping a bit more gingerly the next time they hit the sand.

On a single day last fall, nearly 400,000 volunteers set out to clean up the beaches, and they picked up more than 6 million pounds of junk and gunk.

Sarah Abramson is with the group Heal the Bay in Southern California, and she told us what her group found.

Ms. SARAH ABRAMSON (Coastal Resources Director, Heal the Bay): We found over 83,000 pounds of trash, and the majority of the trash we're finding are single-use, disposable items like plastic bags, polystyrene or Styrofoam containers, cigarette butts and bottle caps.

We'll find strange things as well. We found a large butcher knife. We found some animal bones, a half-full jar of peanut butter, all sorts of strange stuff as well.

LYDEN: Now another group, called the Ocean Conservancy, tallied up the results of International Coastal Cleanup just this week, and it reported that the biggest single source of debris was from smoking items.

Ms. ABRAMSON: Yeah, we do see a lot of cigarette butts on our beaches during our cleanups, and, you know, most people don't understand that cigarette butts aren't made from natural materials. They have a lot of synthetic material in them, and they never truly break down.

And a second thing is these cigarette butts aren't just coming from beachgoers. They're coming from inland sites. You know, it's a big basin that contributes to our trash debris problems. So trash from 90 miles inland, when it rains, flows through storm drains, rivers, and eventually makes its way to the beach and to the sea.

LYDEN: This was a massive cleanup effort, but it was also only a day. Can it make a difference in terms of improving the ecosystem?

Ms. ABRAMSON: Well, I think the really big, important thing about Coastal Cleanup Day is how it raises awareness to so many people. In L.A. County, we reached over 11,000 volunteers on that single day, and so so many people are seeing the problem and hopefully inspired to take action on their own.

One thing that I think is really impressive is that we're starting to see action inland, things like governments passing resolutions supporting the use of reusable bags. We're also seeing some governments take action to ban polystyrene. So I think the awareness is getting there, and it will take some time to see results from that.

LYDEN: Sara Abramson is coastal resources director for Heal the Bay in Southern California, and you can find the Ocean Conservancy's report on this massive cleanup project and a list of the top 10 kinds of trash they picked up last fall around the world at oceanconvervancy.org.

Thanks again, Sara.

Ms. ABRAMSON: Thank you.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.