Sun, Sea, Sand, And... Small Appliances? New Marine Trash Report Reveals Sorry State of World's Beaches

© Shanti Persaud/Ocean Conservancy. Coastal cleanup in Jamaica.

Nearly 1 million pieces of food packaging, more than 250,000 items of clothing, and enough light bulbs to replace every light on the Eiffel Tower -- that's just some of the detritus volunteers found among the 9 million pounds of trash they collected recently from the world's coastlines and waterways.

The 2011 International Coastal Cleanup, organized by the Ocean Conservancy, saw volunteers scouring shorelines for garbage from the United States to the Philippines. The results of the cleanup, released last week by the ocean-conservation group, provide "a snapshot of what ocean trash is found along ocean and waterways throughout the country and world."

© Ocean Conservancy.

The top 10 items found -- cigarettes; caps and lids; plastic beverage bottles; plastic bags; food wrappers and containers; cups, plates, forks, knives, and spoons; glass beverage bottles; straws and stirrers; beverage cans; and paper bags -- make up 80 percent of the total debris items recovered worldwide, according to Ocean Conservancy.

Endangering Wildlife
In addition to casting an ugly pall over a day at the beach, ocean trash poses serious threats to wildlife, including birds, fish, and marine mammals, all of which can become dangerously entangled in debris or die from eating it.

© Vinodini Lulla/Ocean Conservancy. Coastal cleanup in India.

The Ocean Conservancy has been organizing coastal cleanups for the past 26 years, with more than 9.3 million people collecting 153 million pounds of trash over an area spanning more than 300,000 miles in 153 countries and locations. Over the years, volunteers have found:

  • 55 million cigarette butts, enough to rise to the height of 3,613 Empire State Buildings if stacked vertically;
  • 870,935 diapers, enough to put one on every child born in the U.K. last year;
  • One glass or plastic bottle for every resident of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia;
  • Enough appliances to fill 37,434 single-axle dump trucks; and
  • Enough cups, plates, forks, knives, and spoons to host a picnic for 2.15 million people.

"Our top 10 list consistently shows that what you use, eat, and drink in our everyday life ends up in the ocean," Ocean Conservancy President Vikki Spruill said in a press release. "We need to stop trash at its source, and the biggest impact we can have involves the choices each of us make every day."

Tags: Activism | Oceans | Pollution | Waste