I love going to the beach to swim, paddle, or chill out, but my recent visits to the beach have begun to look different. I notice more trash and it’s gross. It could be my increased awareness as a result of my work in the field of marine debris, but I think it is a result of more “single-use stuff” being purchased and then improperly disposed. Most of what is found along beach cleanups is single-use, mostly plastic, items. Common marine debris items include cigarettes, straws, and plastic bottle caps.
So how are we affected by marine debris? Marine debris harms humans by:
- Reducing beach aesthetics, making a beach visit less pleasant or reducing the number of tourists coming to our beaches.
- Causing dangerous and costly-to-fix boating situations when boat propellers become entangled in rope or other debris.
- Harming human health through leaching of toxic chemicals as plastics degrade.
- Entangling other animals or hurting animals that mistake trash for food.
Shocked yet? I know I am and saddened by this trashy reality. But have no fear! There are many actions you can take in your everyday life to reduce the amount of waste generated. For example, consider:
- Volunteering! Host a beach cleanup through Alliance for the Great Lakes, Adopt-a-Beach
- Spitting the straw out! Kindly refuse single-use plastic items such as straws or silverware when away from home.
- Using reusable! Bring a reusable bag when you go shopping for food, clothes, or other items. Also bring a reusable water bottle with you. Ohio generally has lovely tasting tap water and it’s much cheaper than buying bottled water.
- Covering up! Make sure trash cans and recycling bins are covered to avoid wind or critters taking your trash somewhere it doesn’t belong.
- Flicking it right! Smoking items are the #1 item found on beach cleanups around the world. Cigarettes have plastic in them, so they never truly disappear when they get in the natural environment. They degrade into smaller fibers of plastic. Use an ash tray or smoking receptacle to avoid littering.
- Stinking it up! Synthetic clothing such as fleece shed fibers through wear and tear and especially through washing. You can choose to wash less or invest in a microfiber catcher.
Jill Bartolotta is an Extension Educator with the Ohio Sea Grant College Program.
marine debris: NOAA marine debris program. 2016. Website: https://marinedebris.noaa.gov/.
Adopt-a-Beach: Alliance for the Great Lakes, Adope-a-Beach. 2016. Website: http://www.greatlakesadopt.org/?gclid=CIfZidjT4c0CFQiQaQodl4UKJQ.
microfiber catcher: Rozalia Project. 2016. Website: http://rozaliaproject.org/stop-microfiber-pollution/.