10 Most Common Types of Beach Litter Are All Plastic
For the first time since the report's inception more than 30 years ago, the 10 most common items picked up by volunteers around the world were made of plastic. Foam takeaway containers booted glass beverage bottles from this year's list.
"Over the years, we have seen plastics creeping into the top-10 list, displacing items like rope, beverage cans and paper bags," said Nicholas Mallos, director of Ocean Conservancy's Trash Free Seas program, in a statement provided to EcoWatch. "But this is the first year that all ten of the top-10 items collected are made of plastic. Given that plastic production is rising, this could be the start of a long and troubling trend."
During last year's International Coastal Cleanup Day, which is observed annually on the third Saturday in September, nearly 800,000 volunteers in more than 100 countries collected nearly 20.5 million pounds of trash.
Participants found that cigarette butts—a repeat top offender on the ICC list—were the most littered item, with approximately 2.4 million collected. Food wrappers (1.7 million pieces), drink bottles (1.6 million), bottle caps (1.1 million) and grocery bags (757,523) round out the top five.
Each piece of debris is logged into Ocean Conservancy's Ocean Trash Index, the world's largest database on marine debris, a valuable snapshot of the world's growing plastic problem.
"What sets the ICC apart is our emphasis on data collection," said George Leonard, Ocean Conservancy's chief scientist in a statement, "and data are critically needed if we are to find meaningful solutions to the ocean plastic crisis."
Since about 1950, humans have created more than 8.3 billion metric tons of new plastics. Unfortunately, a lot of that plastic ends up in the world's oceans. An estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic leaches into our seas each year. This debris has negatively impacted more than 800 species of marine animals, a UN report found.
Plastic also never fully biodegrades; it just breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces. These
microplastics, which get gobbled up by plankton and fish and work its way up the food chain, have been found in all corners of Earth. A recent Greenpeace expedition to Antarctica turned up microplastics in more than half of ocean water samples taken in the world's southernmost waters.
While the growing international effort to ban single-use plastics is crucial in curbing use of the material, beach cleanups are important because they directly stop the flow of plastics from entering our precious waters.
As Allison Schutes, associate director of Ocean Conservancy's Trash Free Seas program, puts it, "Every item of debris removed is one less item putting ocean wildlife at risk."
This year's International Coastal Cleanup will be held on Sep. 15. Click here to find a cleanup near you.
Infographic: How the Oil Industry Is Pushing Plastic https://t.co/pPU5jFBRGk @wwwfoecouk @GreenpeaceUK— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1530098410.0
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
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