It’s no secret that the world’s ocean trash problem is getting bad; looking at a handful of images from the Texas-sized Pacific garbage patch should be enough to convince anyone. As for all of our litter that doesn’t end up in the middle of the ocean? It often stays close to shore, where volunteers for Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup pick some of it up, cataloging all the items they find.
This year, the cleanup’s volunteers picked up over 11 million items—the second-highest number collected during the event’s 27 years. Below, the top 10 items found.
"It’s difficult to make bold, grand conclusions, but what we can say is that if you look at the top 10 items, they are the same items we’ve been seeing for the past 10, 15, 20 years," says Nicholas Mallos, a Marine Debris Specialist at Ocean Conservancy.
That’s not to say the volunteers didn’t dredge up any strange items. They found 4,159 candles, 236 toothbrushes, and 117 mattresses. Mallos points that a greater number of appliances and mattresses are found in inland regions than on the coast, possibly because it’s easy for people to slip into the woods and dump their big items. There isn’t as much privacy on most beaches.
Some items come from specific incidents. "If you’re looking at the coastline up in Alaska, we’re seeing large quantities of styrofoam that resulted from the Japan tsunami. In some beaches, there are quantities 50 to 100 times greater than historical styrofoam [levels]," says Mallos.
Organizing big ocean cleanup days mitigates the problem a little bit, but clearly it’s not getting better. Mallos admits as much. "The cleanup is not enough. It’s not the end solution. In some ways it’s curing the symptom. We have to work together to find a collective solution to cure the disease," he says. Part of that solution surely comes from brands producing fewer disposable goods. But on the consumer side, Ocean Conservancy offers a host of tools—available here—to help people make better decisions about their trash.