July 4th is the most popular beach day of the year. But, it also results in the most popular day of the year for litter to be scattered on the shores. Clean Beach Week, which is held from July 1st to July 7th, was created to bring awareness to the trash being left on beaches and educate us on what it means to be kind to the environment and our ocean’s ecosystem.
The first ever organized beach cleanup was in the mid 1970s by the Arcata Recycling center in California. Littering on beaches started to have a negative impact on the environment as the natural tide of the ocean would gather this liter and harm the ocean’s ecosystem. It took thirty-three years for this issue to claim worldwide attention.
Formally, clean beaches week was started in 2003 by the Clean Beaches Coalition (CBC). The CBC is a network of costal organizations that promote clean, healthy and well managed beaches around the world. Since its creation it has drawn enormous public support with over 150 costal governors, mayors, and country commissions issuing a proclamation. In 2007, both the Senate and House of Representatives passed resolutions enacting Clean Beaches Week by a unanimous vote. It was designed to help educate residents and visitors to our thousands of coastal beaches to leave the beaches clean and pristine.
Statistics show however, that we are not being kind to our beaches. Just last year, on coastal cleanup day, over 500,000 volunteers worldwide spent just ONE day cleaning up beaches and the nearby-by parks and waterways. Here are the staggering findings as reported by the national nonprofit organization Surfrider: :
- 2, 117,931 cigarettes/cigarette filters
- 1,140,222 food and candy wrappers
- 1,065,171 plastic beverage bottles
- 1,019,902 plastic bags
- 958,893 caps and bottle lids
- 692,767 cups, plates, knives, forks and spoons (primarily plastic)
- 611,048 straws/stirrers (primarily plastic)
- 521,730 glass beverage bottles
- 339,875 beverage cans
- 298,332 paper bags/other paper litter
Adding these numbers comes to 8,765,871 pieces of trash, and that is only one day’s work! Why are these numbers important?
Our waste that is left on the beach gets pulled into the oceans, lakes and rivers through the everyday natural tides, thus disrupting the water ecosystems that reside in these areas. Let’s start with cigarettes and their filters. Cigarette butts are typically made from cellulose acetate, a fibrous form of plastic. While it may degrade in a few years, it’s likely degraded into lots of small plastic fragments rather than truly biodegrading. In addition, and possibly more alarming, is that the butts leach out those toxins they are trying to help protect smokers from when submersed in water. Researchers from San Diego State University have shown lethal impacts to fish.
Plastic, and other made-with-plastic such as eating utensils and bottle caps often end up in the bowels of our wildlife. Plastic has been found in 59% of seabirds, 100% of sea turtles species, and in more than 25% of fish sampled from markets around the world. The North Pacific Ocean has the dubious title of being the most polluted ocean in the world, around 2 trillion pollution particles made up of primarily plastic. It is estimated that by 2050, ocean waste is expected to outweigh all of the ocean’s fish. We can’t point to anyone but ourselves.
This leaves us to ask again, “Why should WE care about clean beach week?”
Selfishly, having clean beaches means we eat non-contaminated seafood. Having clean beaches means we don’t have to watch every second whether our toddler or child puts something in her/his mouth that could be deadly. Having clean beaches means our sea and wildlife are healthy. Having clean beaches means we breath cleaner air.
I surf, and it saddens me every time I’m out in the water I can see and sometimes even smell heaps of trash floating around me while participating in various water sports. It is also disheartening to see fish swimming beside me on one side, then on the other I see heaps of trash floating that I know the fish that I just saw are breathing the toxicity. It also makes going to the beach and participating in these activities less enjoyable. Seeing all of this trash makes me want to leave.
I understand that the beach is such a small sector of our world. There are city sidewalks and public parks that are full of litter as well, disrupting those ecosystems. In these places it is not the natural tide that moves waste products. It is wind and/or human traffic. We should want a place that we live and love to look beautiful. With being kind to our planet we are also being kind to ourselves. When we provide ourselves with a clean environment, we feel better about our day to day lives. Just think of the statistics above and what they would be if we also cleaned the litter from our everyday communities.
With an entire week dedicated to the cleanliness of beaches, it makes it much more accessible to pick a day and drive to a beach and just clean up the liter. If a beach is not accessible, then I would suggest going to even just a public park or hiking trail and picking up trash.
Ultimately, clean beaches week is about being kind towards our planet. Though the week is dedicated to beaches, it still makes one think how unkind we are to our entire planet.
This clean beach week, do what you can to NOT contribute to the litter.
Recycle, Reuse, and Refuse to litter our beaches!