Plastic forks, knives, and spoons make it to the list of top ten items that dominate beach trash

According to the 2018 International Coastal Cleanup, cigarette butts that contain plastic filters topped the list


                            Plastic forks, knives, and spoons make it to the list of top ten items that dominate beach trash

Plastic cutlery, including spoons, knives, and forks, is now among the top ten items retrieved as part of annual beach cleanups. In all, volunteers from over 120 countries collected 10.6 million kilograms of trash during the 2018 International Coastal Cleanup (ICC), says a report by Ocean Conservancy. 

According to the report by the US-based environmental advocacy group, cigarette butts that contain plastic filters topped the list at approximately 5.7 million collected. This was followed by food wrappers that include candy, chips, etc. (a little over 3.7 million), plastic straws and stirrers (just under 3.7 million), plastic cutlery (nearly 2 million), and plastic beverage bottles (almost 1.8 million).

These five items rounded the top five, says the report, which was published less than a month before the 34th annual ICC, scheduled for Saturday, September 21.

“Plastic forks, knives, and spoons are ranked among the most harmful types of marine debris to ocean animals, and the 2018 International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) data show that they may be a lot more prevalent than we had previously suspected,” says Nicholas Mallos, senior director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program. 

While Ocean Conservancy has been analyzing plastic forks, spoons and knives as a separate category since 2013, last year was the first time that plastic cutlery made it to the top ten most commonly collected items. Further, plastic straws and stirrers have also consistently been among the top ten most-collected things during the ICC each year. Plastic straws, say experts, are not recyclable, and many people do not need them. “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,” says Mallos.

Top 10 items collected during the 2018 International Coastal Cleanup.

According to experts, every year, an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic waste flows into the oceans, equivalent of one “dump truck full of plastic every minute, every hour, every day going into the ocean.”

This is on top of the estimated 150 million metric tons that currently circulate in marine environments. The United Nations (UN) states that globally, one million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute, while up to five trillion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide every year. In total, half of all plastic produced is meant to be used just once and then thrown away. 

“Plastic bags, fishing gear, utensils, cigarette butts, and plastic bottle caps are the deadliest forms of ocean trash. These items are often mistaken for food or ingested by seabirds, turtles, and other ocean animals,” say scientists from Ocean Conservancy.

Items such as plastic bags, fishing gear, and cigarette butts are often mistaken for food or ingested by seabirds, turtles, and other ocean animals. (Getty Images)

As part of the cleanup, volunteers recovered more than 69,000 toys and over 16,000 appliances. Further, the current report shows that tiny trash (70,242,163 collected in all), which are items measuring less than 2.5 cm, included plastic pieces, foam pieces, and glass pieces. Some of the “weird finds” from the 2018 ICC included dentures, plastic sword, chandelier, plunger, traffic cone, a fake Christmas tree, a garage door, and a cash register.

In the past, wedding dresses, washing machines, and mattresses, among others, have been recovered during the beach cleanups.

“With these latest results, over 15 million volunteers had collected nearly 315 million pounds of trash from beaches and waterways worldwide since 1986, when Ocean Conservancy first mobilized the annual International Coastal Cleanup,” says the report.

It further states, “Scientists, researchers, industry leaders, and policymakers rely on Ocean Conservancy’s Ocean Trash Index to inform policy and determine solutions to the growing ocean plastic pollution crisis. Every year, an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic waste flow into the ocean. More than 800 animal species have been impacted by plastics, which may never fully biodegrade but rather break up into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics.”

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