Jersey beaches need some cleaning

April 24, 2008 6:28:41 PM PDT
New Jersey's famous beaches have surf, sand and plenty of sun. Last year, they also had toilet seats, scissors, a used pregnancy test, underwear and nearly 40,000 cigarette butts. The annual roster of disgusting detritus picked up off the shoreline by volunteers during several organized sweeps in 2007 was released Thursday by the environmental group Clean Ocean Action. It showed that despite intensive efforts to keep New Jersey's coast clean, a huge amount of garbage continues to either wash up with the tides, or gets left behind on the sand by thoughtless beachgoers.

"Litterers are freeloaders in society, and there must be a zero tolerance campaign to break them of their filthy habit," said Cindy Zipf, the group's executive director.

"Year after year, the data from our cleanups provide clear evidence that we are failing to control litter and to protect our waters from waste," she said. "The cure is simple: we must enforce existing litter laws and renew programs."

The most common items fouling the shoreline? As Mr. McGuire said to Benjamin in the movie "The Graduate," it boils down to one word: plastics.

More than 160,000 plastic items, ranging from caps and lids to food containers to coffee stirrers, beverage containers, cigar tips and six-pack rings, were plucked from the sand.

They are especially lethal to marine life including fish, turtles and birds, which either mistake them for jellyfish, or get tangled in them.

"Plastics persist in the marine environment and cause harm to wildlife through entanglement and ingestion," said Anna Will, the group's pollution prevention coordinator. "Animals mistake garbage, especially plastics, for food with lethal results."

Nearly 5,000 volunteers also picked up 38,019 cigarette butts in 2007 - twice as many as many as the year before.

The group attributes the increase to recent bans on smoking in public buildings in New Jersey and New York. With more smokers forced outside, they discard their butts in the street, which eventually get washed into sewers or storm drains, and ultimately end up in the ocean.

"Unfortunately, when it rains, our waterways are the ultimate sinks for the thousands of cigarette butts, food bags, plastic bottles, and other garbage littered by people everyday in this region," Will said.

Other notable floatables included three toilet seats; three cell phones (one with a charger); a shopping cart; a pregnancy test (result unclear); three bags of pet waste; a suitcase; two pairs of scissors, and a tennis racket.

Also found: a paint roller and a paint can; two pairs of glasses; car keys; some police crime scene tape; a baby car seat; a car bumper; hair curlers; a television set; a microwave oven; three bouquets of fake flowers; two pairs of underwear (gender unclear); an 8-track tape; a bobble-head doll; an ice cube tray, and half of a Barbie Doll.

This Saturday will mark the start of the 2008 beach sweeps at over 60 sites along New Jersey's 127-mile coast. The sweeps begin at 9 a.m. and end at 12:30 p.m., rain or shine.

On the Net:

Clean Ocean Action: