Plastic Cutlery Makes Top 10 List of Trash Items Found on Beaches

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©. Ocean Conservancy / Gabriel Ortiz (used with permission)

This dismal finding shows that our eating culture needs a serious overhaul.

The results from last year's International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) are out, and it's clear that the way we eat is causing problems. Of the top 10 most common items found on coastlines in 120 countries, seven are food-related. These are food wrappers, straws and stirrers, plastic cutlery, beverage bottles, bottle caps, plastic lids, and single-use cups and plates. The other three categories were plastic grocery bags and 'other' plastic bags (both of which could be linked to food), and cigarette butts.

A press release from the ICC says it's the first time plastic forks, knives, and spoons have appeared on the top 10 list. (Nearly 2 million pieces were counted.) While straw bans have caught on in many places, cutlery bans are less common, though just as important. Nicholas Mallos, senior director of the Ocean Conservancy's Trash Free Seas program, said,

"The 2018 ICC data show that [plastic cutlery] may be a lot more prevalent than we had previously suspected. In addition to skipping the straw, we hope people see this and choose to quit the cutlery, too — by bringing their own when planning to eat on the go."

I have written before about the need to tackle America's disposable cutlery addiction, and how it's directly linked to an unhealthy societal obsession with convenience. Cutlery, straws, takeout coffee cups, and plastic beverage bottles are all examples of products that wouldn't need to exist if we weren't always trying to eat on the go, in a hurry, or without planning in advance. More people should heed this clever advice I once received from a friend: "Proper preparation prevents poor performance."

The ICC press release recounts 'weird finds' that include a chandelier, a fake Christmas tree, a garage door, and a cash register. It says that volunteers have found "wedding dresses, washing machines, mattresses, and more" in years gone by, and that 2018's cleanup hauled in more than 69,000 toys and over 16,000 appliances. These are all appalling examples of pollution, but it's the ongoing daily use of single-use plastics that needs to be addressed most urgently. We must change our eating culture if we hope to stem the tide of plastic trash that is entering the oceans, breaking down into microplastics, and harming countless animal species.

The ICC hosts an annual cleanup day, and 2019's is coming up soon on September 21. You can join the effort by registering here.