Yearly totals indicate a troubling trend of inland trash making its way to the ocean
San Diego County CA— Tiny shards of plastic food wrappers. Large discarded crates.
Volunteers collected a staggering variety of trash, both big and small, from San Diego County beaches during a series of cleanups hosted in 2015 by the Surfrider Foundation San Diego County Chapter and San Diego Coastkeeper. The environmental groups train volunteers to track the type and number of items they pick up during cleanups, ask them to note unique items and help them weigh the total contents.
In 2015, 7,360 volunteers removed 9,825 pounds of debris from coastal areas, capturing it before it could pollute the ocean.
For another consecutive year, cigarettes and cigarette butts were the most prevalent type of debris found (79,083 pieces), followed by plastic (17,342 pieces) and bits of plastic foam (13,970 pieces). Cleanup organizers say it is alarming that cigarette butts topped the list again, and their numbers increased from the previous year.
“Cigarette butts easily travel from sidewalks into our stormwater systems, ending up in our beaches and oceans. Many people believe that cigarette butts are biodegradable but in fact that couldn’t be further from the truth. The filters are plastic with harmful toxins that leach into the surrounding water,” said Mandy Sackett, Surfrider’s San Diego County Chapter Manager. “Our Hold Onto Your Butt campaign has sold over 10,000 pocket ashtrays and installed over 230 ashcans in San Diego County, which lower cigarette butt litter in the surrounding area by approximately 65 percent.”
The percent of plastic found in the total items collected this year stayed roughly the same this year as last, totaling 43 percent of the items collected by volunteers. Plastics are particularly damaging to the marine environment, as they do not biodegrade, and are easily ingested by wildlife. Many of the plastics collected were pieces less than one inch in diameter, and much of it was non-recyclable expanded polystyrene foam, or “Styrofoam®.”
“The litter we remove from beaches isn’t only left behind by beachgoers, it comes from all over San Diego County,” said Kristin Kuhn, San Diego Coastkeeper’s community engagement coordinator. “Wind and rain takes litter from inland communities into our stormwater system, where it enters our rivers, beaches and oceans. We’re all connected to the coast.”
For the second year in a row, Fiesta Island had the most trash collected per volunteer in 2015 with 4.68 pounds of trash per volunteer. Fiesta Island also had the most trash removed by overall weight, with a total of 788 pounds of trash collected at that location in 2015.
To solve these pollution problems and volunteer at future beach cleanups, interested community members can help at one of the 40 cleanups already planned for 2016. Find more information about upcoming cleanup days by visiting San Diego Coastkeeper’s event calendar or Surfrider’s event calendar. Remember, Surfrider and Coastkeeper ask volunteers to bring their own reusable bags, gloves and water bottles.