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Beach Bummer

By: Sarah Stevens

With Labor Day weekend just around the corner, many of us are planning to visit our favorite beach spot for the last official weekend of summer.  After what is sure to be a great weekend in the sun, we’ll be dragging our feet to work or school while our beaches are struggling to recover from the dramatic influx of people and trash.

Trashed San Diego beach after 4th of July.  Image courtesy of the San Diego Beach Coalition.

Trashed San Diego beach after 4th of July.
Image courtesy of the San Diego Beach Coalition.

How much trash and litter is actually left on our beaches after a big holiday weekend?

After Memorial Day weekend in San Diego, more than 23,000 pounds of trash and 2,000 pounds of recycling were collected by the San Diego Clean Beach Coalition’s temporary trash cans – and that doesn’t account for the amount of trash collected from the city’s permanent trash cans. Similarly, after the Fourth of July weekend, over 250,000 pounds of debris was collected in temporary trash cans.

While additional trash cans during holiday weekends can help reduce litter and trash, a significant amount still ends up in our oceans. According to the Mother Nature Network, approximately 80% of marine debris comes from land (although not all from beach debris) and more than 60% is made up of plastics. Once in our oceans, trash accumulates in the great garbage patches – the two most famous are the Pacific and Atlantic Garbage Patches. Despite the name, they are not giant floating trash islands, but instead are comprised of billions of small, floating pieces of trash, mostly plastic, spread over many miles and invisible to the naked eye.

Image courtesy of Greenpeace

The greatest problem is that plastic is not biodegradable, but instead is broken down into smaller pieces by sunlight – a process called photograding. As a result, the plastic never disintegrates completely, but is broken down into smaller and smaller pieces and is hazardous to marine life. How much plastic is actually in our oceans?

  • Every year we produce over 200 billion pounds of plastic – 10% of which ends up in our oceans
  • A study by the UN Environment Program in 2006 estimated that for every square mile of ocean there is 46,000 pieces of floating plastic
  • In some areas the amount of plastic outweighs plankton 6:1

Worldwide people are making attempts to cut back on plastic use, whether through bans on plastic grocery bags or switching to more biodegradable packaging. However, we still need to be proactive and help keep as much trash off of our beaches and out of our oceans. Join a local beach cleanup, pick up a few pieces of trash next time you’re beachside, and make sure to collect all of your trash (including cigarette butts). We’ve joined forces with I Love A Clean San Diego during their 29th Annual Coastal Clean Up Day on September 21. We’ll be in Del Mar so come join us or pick a cleanup location near you!

Coastal Clean Up Day 2013

 

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