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A cleanup crew recovered 200 tons of trash from just 12 miles of Alaska's coastline around Prince William Sound.
Gulf of Alaska Keeper (GoAK), a nonprofit dedicated to picking up debris around the state, filled 1,200 "super sacks" and collected thousands of buoys, marine debris specialist Scott Groves said. The group spent a month at Montague Island and two weeks at Kayak Island to collect the trash, KTVA Alaska reported.
Groves, who was interviewed by KTVA after they were done collecting the trash, said, "It's such a pristine place out there also, so being able to fly over where we've cleaned and to see what we have done is a good feeling."
The 200 tons of trash was shipped to Anchorage on a barge. It took an entire day to unload the trash. Now, GoAK will spend at least 10 full days sorting the trash, enlisting more than 100 volunteers.
Groves hopes to pick out everything that can be recycled. He said as much as 80 percent of the total debris might be recyclable.
"With the amount of plastic everyone uses in today's age, a lot of what we find is single-use plastics," Groves said. "So just taking one water bottle and being able to reuse that again is huge."
The presence of plastics in the ocean is plaguing the world. A report completed by UK-based Eunomia Research & Consulting found 80 percent of the annual input of plastic litter comes from land-based sources. The remaining 20 percent are plastics released at sea, such as fishing gear.
Even worse, 94 percent of the plastic that enters the oceans ends up on the sea floor.
Alaska's coastline isn't the only one covered with debris. In recent weeks a "glacier of trash," as local authorities described it, is inundating beaches in Hong Kong. The situation is so bad that trash on one of the affected islands can be seen from space.
Between July 1 and 9 alone, about 172,000 pounds—or 8 tons—of trash were collected from Hong Kong beaches. That's 40 percent of the amount collected in Alaska.
Who is to blame for the sudden deluge?
An enormous—and unprecedented—amount of plastic waste and other marine debris has been washing up on Hong Kong's southern beaches in recent weeks.
Hong Kong's shores have been inundated by trash since mid-June.Facebook
Local authorities have described the filth as a "glacier of trash," and that the rubbish from one island could even be seen from space, the Epoch Times wrote. From July 1 to 9 alone, government departments collected 78,000 kilograms (about 172,000 pounds) of litter from affected areas, the South China Morning Post reported.
On Sunday, chief executive Leung Chun-ying and his team of 60 officials and workers collected about 1,350 kilograms (about 3,000 pounds) of garbage in about half an hour during a beach clean-up in South Lantau.
Leung blamed the influx on heavy rains and floods that struck southern China.
"A lot of domestic garbage was washed towards Hong Kong from the mainland ... predictably due to heavy rainfalls and floods in the past few weeks," he said. Leung said he would follow up with Chinese authorities about the situation. Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous Chinese city that's in charge of its own internal affairs and external relations.
As Quartz reported, Hong Kong is located at the mouth of the Pearl River Delta, which runs past several large Guangdong cities that might have open or poorly maintained dump sites. Aided by monsoon winds, the mainland trash flowing in the river was forced onto Hong Kong's shores.
The New York Times reported that as local cleanup groups started picking up the trash, they noticed that the discarded wrappers and packaging had simplified Chinese characters and mainland quality-control symbols, suggesting the trash stemmed from China.
Hong Kong's Environmental Protection Department also believes that the mainland is to blame. In a statement to Quartz the department wrote:
The EPD notices that in mid-June, there had been severe rain storms and floods in many provinces along Pearl River (e.g. Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan and Jiangxi) and there were reports that Guangdong as well as Liuzhou of Guangxi might encounter a serious 1-in-20 years flood. We suspect that the floods in mid-June in the Mainland might have brought the refuse to the sea and then the refuse is brought to Hong Kong by the southwest monsoon wind and the sea currents. Similar phenomenon happened in 2005 when massive amount of debris and refuse were found at various beaches and coastal areas of Hong Kong after a serious 1 in 100 year flood in the Mainland.
Yongqiang Zong, a professor at Hong Kong University's Department of Earth Sciences, also supports the statement but, as he told Quartz, he suspects that a majority of the trash originates from Guangdong and Guangxi province, not Hunan and Jiangxi, which are further inland.
Sea Shepherd Hong Kong does not believe that China deserves the sole responsibility for the sudden deluge. The conservation group told the South China Morning Post that while mainland China might be responsible for some of the trash, domestic trash from Hong Kong itself is also a culprit.
Residents have become increasingly angry over the cascades of rubbish.Facebook
Gary Stokes, Sea Shepherd's Hong Kong-based Asia director, wrote on Facebook that the city's waste is a major problem and that local reports have unfairly bashed the mainland.
"HK media that seem only interested now as it is a chance to bash China. Where have they been for the past 10 - 15 years whilst all these great NGO's have been highlighting the issues? Hong Kong creates more trash per capita than anywhere on earth, our track record on recycling efforts and cleanliness are dire," he wrote. "Just one look at the Aberdeen Harbour clean up two weeks ago highlights how much trash we are carelessly dumping into our own harbor to be swept out to sea or dumped on North Lamma beaches, yet nothing has been done even though its staring everyone in the face."
Plastic trash and marine debris can be devastating and deadly to aquatic life. Non-biodegradable pieces of plastic, especially microplastics, are a particular cause for worry, as they are being gobbled up by plankton and baby fish like junk food, and work its way up the food chain.
On Facebook, Stokes described his recent trip to plastic-filled Sham Wan, Hong Kong's only green turtle nesting beach which is currently closed.
"Sad to find so much trash along both coastlines coming in, throughout the main bay and on the beach and in the surf," he wrote. "Should a turtle return right now it would have to run a gauntlet of trash."
Turtle Nesting Beach in Sham Wan, Lamma. Gary Stokes