Last September, more than 550,000 volunteers in 97 countries gathered on beaches and along waterways around the globe with one goal in mind -- to clean things up.
During the Ocean Conservancy's 27th annual International Coastal Cleanup, in the span of just one month, the participants combed across nearly 18,000 miles of coastline, removing a whopping 10 million pounds of trash in the process. And as LiveScience notes, that's roughly equivalent to the weight of 41 blue whales!
After all that trash is collected, it's sorted by type, offering a comprehensive snapshot of which type of marine debris is the most prevalent. Here's a breakdown of the ten most common bits of garbage the volunteers found:
2,117,931 cigarette butts
1,140,222 food wrappers / containers
1,065,171 plastic bottles
1,019,902 plastic bags
958,893 caps, lids
692,767 cups, plates, forks, knives, spoons
611,048 straws, stirrers
521,730 glass bottles
339,875 beverage cans
298,332 paper bags
Sadly, many of these most common pieces of debris are the most harmful to wildlife. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association estimates that such discarded materials kill at least 1 million sea birds and 100,000 mammals each year -- a hefty toll that could be largely prevented with proper waste disposal.
"Whether it's the smallest bottle cap to the weirdest finds, like the 117 mattresses collected, every piece of trash affects the health of our ocean," says Nicholas Mallos, marine-debris specialist for the Ocean Conservancy.
While each bit careless deposited trash found along our planet's beaches and waterways may seem minute, when added to the whole, the problem becomes impossible to ignore.