Massachusetts is known for its beautiful public beaches. Along with our famed clam chowDAH, the Green Monster, and the many historical sites along Boston's Freedom Trail, the coastline is one of the top reasons residents choose to live in Massachusetts and tourists choose to visit. But while those beaches may look picture perfect, upon closer investigation, the pristine shores are regularly marred by marine debris. What is marine debris? Trash, old fishing line, and other materials that make their way into the ocean and onto the shore through a combination of people littering, trash blowing out of trash cans, cigarette butts and other street litter washing into storm drains that connect to the ocean, boating debris washing up on beaches, and similar sources. These items, which can take many lifetimes to decompose, tarnish the coast's beauty, entangle wildlife, and can release hazardous chemicals and even transmit diseases.

COASTSWEEP to the Rescue!

Through COASTSWEEP, the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) has been addressing the issue of marine debris since 1987. Part of Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup, COASTSWEEP volunteers not only clean up the shore, they record data on what they find. This data is fed into the Ocean Conservancy's marine debris database and the information is used to better understand the sources of marine debris globally and develop solutions for prevention.

COASTSWEEP 2012 marked the 25th anniversary for this Massachusetts coastal cleanup. Coordinated by CZM, COASTSWEEP offers volunteer opportunities for people of all ages and interests. To participate, see the COASTSWEEP website for information on how to organize your own cleanup anytime during the months of September and October.

COASTSWEEP - 25 Years - 25 Facts and Ways to Minimize Marine Debris*

  1. From American Samoa to Wales, 114 countries participate in the International Coastal Cleanup.
  2. From 1987 through 2011, more than 8.5 million volunteers covered 300,000 miles of shoreline and collected 144 million pounds of trash.
  3. The first coastal cleanup was held in Texas in 1986. The following year, Massachusetts and a number of other U.S. states organized cleanups.
  4. Mexico and Canada were the first countries outside of the United States to participate.
  5. Kickoffs for the majority of the cleanups are held on the third weekend of September and continue through October. (And while cleanups can take place at any time, to be included in the Ocean Conservancy's official report, data cards must be turned in by November 15.)
  6. Of all the countries that have participated from 1987 through 2011, the United States has logged the most volunteers (3,618,462).
  7. Of all the participating states, California has ranked #1 in volunteer participation with more than 100,000 taking part in coastal cleanups annually.
  8. The most frequently found item at beaches: cigarette butts. Through 2011, 52.9 million were collected. (This makes up a total of 32% of the debris items found.) During COASTSWEEP 2011, 30,565 butts were removed from Massachusetts beaches.
  9. Cleanups are not just limited to beaches. Volunteers collect trash along the shores of lakes, tidal creeks, and rivers—and boaters and scuba divers retrieve trash from the water itself. (Through 2011, 251,845 pounds of debris have been collected by boaters and divers around the world.)
  10. Cleanup data makes a difference and has helped pass legislation on plastic bags. Ireland launched a shopping bag tax in 2002 (and bag use fell by 90%), San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban plastic shopping bags in 2007, and in 2011, Italy banned single-use bags throughout the country.
  11. A total of 488 birds, fish, and marine mammals were found tangled in debris during the 2011 cleanups. Fishing line and fishing nets were the culprit in more than half of the cases. (In Massachusetts, volunteers removed more than 1,000 pieces of fishing line and 288 nets from beaches during COASTSWEEP 2011.)
  12. In 2011, 21,858 tires were found during coastal cleanups around the world (79 of them came from Massachusetts beaches). If you do the math, that's 5,464 cars' worth!
  13. A number of notable items have been unearthed during beach cleanups over the years including: a 52-pound bag of dog hair, a purse containing a family of crawdads, a dead cow in a bag, a tuxedo, a wedding ring, and a grand piano.
  14. In the Philippines, during a cleanup of Long Beach in Puerto Galera, volunteers picked up 1,548 slippers and 792 ice chests. (It is speculated that a container ship lost some cargo…)
  15. Plastics recovered from cleanups are returning as land-based cleaning equipment—"Vacs from the Sea" are made with plastic collected by ocean groups and are used for educational purposes.
  16. Plastics found in the North Pacific Gyre (aka one of several "garbage patches" in the world's oceans) are getting another shelf life—holding eco-friendly cleaning products. Read more about the Method cleaning company’s efforts on their ocean plastic web page.
  17. Help prevent marine debris by becoming a superstar recycler! Check out the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection's How & Where to Recycle page so you know what is recyclable, including donation recommendations and hazardous household products.
  18. Make the "paper-or-plastic" question obsolete by bringing your own bags when you go grocery shopping. (In 2011, 6,363 plastic bags and 1,858 paper bags were collected from Massachusetts beaches during COASTSWEEP.)
  19. Not sure where to recycle what? Match the item in question with your zip code to find out where to recycle the plastic film from your deli meat, batteries, the kitchen sink, and more with Earth's Quick Search.
  20. When you go to the shore—or anywhere really—make sure you leave only footprints. Litter on the ground becomes litter in our oceans, so always put your trash into proper receptacles. If none are available, take trash home. For more on stopping litter, see the Keep America Beautiful Programs and Initiatives web page.
  21. Did you know that wool socks take 1-5 years to decompose while disposable diapers take up to 450 years? Find out how long marine debris lingers, along with other marine debris information, with NOAA's Guidebook to Beach and Waterway Cleanups.
  22. Need caffeine? If you are one of the 100 million daily coffee drinkers in the United States, you can significantly cut down on potential marine debris (not to mention landfill use!) by bringing your own reusable travel cup. The average coffee drinker consumes three cups daily—that's A LOT of disposable cups! And if the not-adding-to-the-waste-stream karma isn't enough, a number of retailers offer a discount to those who travel with their own cup.
  23. And with cigarette butts consistently topping coastal cleanup data lists, here's to hoping the butt stops here. For ways to reduce cigarette litter, including information on how to start a successful local anti-butt campaign and get portable ashtrays, see Keep America Beautiful's online Guide to Cigarette Litter Prevention.
  24. A number of everyday items—from drink pouches to toothpaste tubes—can be turned into re-usable plastic. (Check out TerraCycle's U.S. Brigade for the full list.) Participation costs nothing—TerraCycle pays for your postage, and even donates to a charity of your choice when you arrange to send your items to them. See How TerraCycle Works to get started.
  25. Educate yourself and others about marine debris. Materials and videos are available through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Debris Educational Resources and Materials site.

*Unless otherwise cited or noted, these facts can be found in the Ocean Conservancy's 2011 report, Tracking Trash: 25 Years of Action for the Ocean.