Who doesn’t love going to the beach? These areas of natural beauty, where land meets sea, provide hours of fun for adults, kids, and dogs alike. It’s painful to see, however, the amount of trash left behind after a busy Saturday at the beach, knowing that the ocean will end up being the final resting place for all types of waste. In fact, 6.5 million tons of litter end up in the ocean each year—half of which are plastic products that will take hundreds of years to break down.
Marine and beach pollution come from a number of different sources, not just littering, including sewage, ocean mining, oil spills, agricultural runoff, toxic chemicals, air pollutants, and maritime transportation. Of this list, one thing we can easily and quickly change, though, is where and how we get rid of our trash, in order to help save our beaches, oceans, and marine life.
Check out our how-to guide on how to help keep our beaches clean all year round.
At the beach
One way to prevent the amount of trash left behind on the beach is to think carefully about what you take there in the first place. Avoid bringing unnecessary items to reduce the risk of leaving them behind, unintentionally or not. Invest in reusable water bottles that can be used for lots of different activities, and use Tupperware containers to carry your food instead of tinfoil or plastic wrap.
Some trash is bound to be produced by your trip to the beach, but sometimes the local beach doesn’t have adequate waste disposal and recycling services, so pack a trash bag with you to make sure you throw everything away, and easily hold onto it until you find somewhere to dispose of it properly.
Portable ash trays
Another major cause of water pollution comes from cigarette butts. Putting cigarettes out in the sand and leaving them there increases the likelihood that they’ll blow into the sea, where they release toxins and pollutants, as well as generally adversely affect water quality and marine life.
A test conducted found that just one cigarette butt releases enough toxins to kill over 50% of the fish exposed to it for 24 hours. Moreover, their physical similarity to insects mean fish will consume them, and since they’re unable to digest them, they will stay in their stomachs forever.
Avoiding all of this is as simple as investing in a portable ashtray, which you can then empty into the garbage when you dispose of all your other waste.
Avoid bringing and using plastic
Most people have probably seen the video of that poor sea turtle that had a straw removed from its nose, and six-pack rings are yet another way our drinking habits can negatively impact the lives of sea turtles. You can still enjoy your beer, but make sure to properly dispose of the rings and cut them up just in case.
If you find yourself at a beach bar, remember to turn down a straw if you’re offered one. We were perfectly capable of drinking before 1888—the year when straws were invented—so we can easily give the turtles a break. Insist on being served in a glass, not a plastic cup, and enjoy your drink at the bar, with the shade and music, rather than taking it back to the sand.
Be careful with open flames
Everyone enjoys a good beach bonfire, but not everyone likes to see a beach cluttered with old fire pits that are blowing ash everywhere. If you do decide to have one, put the fire out thoroughly with water, and cover the embers with sand to prevent them from spreading. Once any rocks you’ve used are cool to the touch, move them back to their original locations, and fill the hole with sand. It’s that simple, and now, the beach is ready for someone else to enjoy!
Burning your trash is also a bad idea—not only is it illegal in many places, but a low-temperature fire, such as a bonfire, also doesn’t destroy trash. Instead, it turns it into tiny soot and ash particles that contain toxins, which are then blown into the air, spread around, and deposited into the sea, in addition to the surrounding soil and vegetation.
Participate in beach clean-ups
The next time you’re headed to the beach, why not set aside 30 minutes of your trip for a fun, group beach clean-up? You and your friends can go to different areas of the beach, maximizing the amount of beach you cover. You can even make it a competition, with a prize for the most trash collected.
On your own? No problem! Click here to check for organized ocean clean-ups near you. Ocean Conservancy is dedicated to reaching the goal of having trash-free oceans, and they have loads of information on how you can organize a clean-up yourself and what you will need before, during, and afterwards.
In 2015, volunteers in San Diego removed 197,788 pieces of trash, weighing 9,825 pounds, from their beaches. If that’s how much trash was removed from San Diego alone, imagine how much trash could be removed from all of our beaches!
Away from the beach
Although it’s a great start, eliminating ocean pollution is not as simple as just disposing of our trash correctly and picking up what others have left. All waterways lead to the ocean, so garbage and waste products can make their way into the oceans via garbage disposals and sewage pipes.
We must be conscious of how we dispose of our waste at all times, especially of what we flush. In 2017, more than 5,000 wet wipes were found in a small area of the Thames River, which is just one example of a commonly flushed item that doesn’t break down. Other examples include cotton balls, dental floss, pet litter, oils, and medicines, all of which have been flushed down the drain, into local rivers, and, eventually, the ocean.
While it’s important for all of us as individuals to take action, we cannot exempt local businesses and global corporations from doing their part, too. Wherever possible, use the services of companies that have the best policies towards packing and plastic usage, and don’t be afraid to tell your local café if you think they are being particularly wasteful. If dealing with an international chain, an online petition or letter and interaction via social media are powerful tools. Finally, remember to educate others, as only together can we hope to make a change.