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Beach clean ups find cigarette butts biggest problem


COAST CITIES — Cigarette butts took top count but condoms, tampons, glow sticks and a stethoscope made the list of unusual pieces of trash removed from San Diego County beaches during a suite of cleanups hosted in 2014 by the Surfrider Foundation San Diego County Chapter and San Diego Coastkeeper. This year, more than 7,000 volunteers removed nearly 10,500 pounds of debris from coastal areas, capturing it before it could pollute the ocean.

More alarming than the unusual items, said cleanup organizers, is that volunteers removed nearly 207,800 pieces of trash including more than 75,000 cigarette butts, 23,500 plastic pieces and 17,500 bits of plastic foam (the top three items removed).

“Cigarette butts are non-biodegradable and leach a powerful punch of toxins into the water. They also move with ease through our stormwater systems, meaning they don’t need to be discarded at the beach in order for them to find their way there,” said Haley Haggerstone, Surfrider’s San Diego County chapter manager. “As with most of the debris we remove, their miniscule size can be misleading.”

Things made of plastic or plastic foam took second place to cigarettes as the most prevalent type of debris removed from the county’s beaches. Totaling 46 percent of the items collected by volunteers, most of these small pieces were less than one inch in diameter, and much of it was non-recyclable expanded polystyrene foam, or “Styrofoam.”

“This trash doesn’t necessarily start at the beach. Its path is one of wind and rain from the far reaches of inland San Diego County,”said Kristin Kuhn, Coastkeeper’s community engagement coordinator. “Each year I’m alarmed by the number of items and their weight, and I’m also reminded how these small pieces of debris indicate a much larger issue to solve.”

Fiesta Island had the most trash collected per volunteer in 2014 with 3.43 pounds of trash per volunteer. Fiesta Island also had the most trash removed overall with 1,127 pounds total and the highest average pounds removed per cleanup.

To solve these pollution problems and volunteer at future beach cleanups, interested community members can help at one of the 40 cleanups already planned for 2015. Find more information about upcoming cleanup days by visiting San Diego Coastkeeper’s event calendar or Surfrider’s event calendar. Remember, Surfrider and Coastkeeper ask volunteers to bring their own reusable bags, gloves and water bottles.