Food packaging overtakes cigarette butts as most abundant beach waste

Plastic food packaging, including single use containers, sweet wrappers and crisp packets, have become the most commonly found litter on beaches. The findings come after the Ocean Conservancy’s annual beach clean up analysed over 9.4 tonnes of waste picked up in a single day.

Over 4.2 million cigarette butts were recovered during the initiative, though the item was pushed to second place for the first time in 34 years as over 4.7 million food wrappers were collected.

The beach clean up took place in 116 countries on every continent except Antarctica, showing that this issue is not isolated to any one country. Over 32.5 million items were collected in a single day.

Items collected included 1.8 million plastic bottles, 740,000 shopping bags and just shy of 1 million straws and stirrers. Other finds included 21 garden gnomes and 15 fire hydrants. More deadly was the finding of over 430,000 pieces of glass.

In an ironic twist, both Coca-Cola and Starbucks were supporting partners of the global event despite their continued reputation as being among the world’s worse ocean plastic polluters. Coca-Cola is currently being sued for knowingly polluting the oceans with waste plastic.

As successful as the campaign was in highlighting what rubbish ends up on beaches around the world, the actual amount collected is a drop in the ocean when considering the scale of the problem. In the first nine months of 2020, well over 8.5 million tonnes of plastic was dumped in the ocean.

It is estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by weight, although the harmful effects of plastic are already being felt. As plastics break apart, they become smaller and are eaten by fish and other animals, which are then eaten by humans. Scientists have recently discovered traces of toxic chemicals, commonly found in plastics, in human organs for the first time. It is not known what damage this will have on the human body.

CEO of Ocean Conservancy, Jania Searles Jones said, “It has been heartening to see how we, as a global community, are beginning to come together to tackle these crises. It takes individual efforts and activism; it takes local communities working together; and it takes governments at all levels to pass meaningful policies that will make a difference.”

Take Action

Rubbish found on beaches is rarely dropped there. The majority of rubbish irresponsibly dropped and discarded gets washed away into rivers, streams, storm drains and sewage systems that all eventually lead to the ocean.

We all have a responsibility to not only dispose of our rubbish correctly, but to demand our governments have sufficient rubbish disposal systems in place. We must also reject buying products that have superfluous and/or non recyclable packaging.

We must also do our bit to pick up litter that we walk past. Social scientists have calculated it takes less than 5% of the population to litter pick to set off a chain reaction that cleans up our world. Make sure you are using a grabber or a pair of gloves. Simple daily actions like this do make a difference. You can also join a litter pick group or campaign in your local area.

Saturday 19th September 2020 is World Clean Up day, so there’s never been a better time to take action.

Explore the icons below to see how you can be part of the solution:

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