Fewer Cigarette Butts, Plenty of Plastic on Beaches in New Jersey


First, some good news. Cigarette butts were once “almost as common… as blankets” (as NJ.com puts it) on the beaches of the Jersey shore. Environmentalists for Clean Ocean Action say this is no longer the case, the result of fewer people smoking (though I am not so sure about this, based on how many of my students light up) or of more trash cans (and more people actually using them). Some beaches (in the town of Belmar, for instance) have outright banned smoking on the beach. Cigarette butts had once been in the top three types of debris found “down the shore,” says Tavia Danch, education coordinator for Clean Ocean Action; now they are “only” the fifth.

Progress comes gradually, I guess.

The bad news is that there’s more plastic than ever littering the 127 miles of New Jersey’s beaches. At the 2011 beach sweeps, some 7,575 volunteers collected, tallied and removed over 452,698 pieces of debris for three hours in the spring and three in the fall at 69 sites. They found that 83 percent of marine pollution at the Jersey shore is from plastics. Globally, plastics make up 60 to 80 of marine pollution.

Plastics are particularly lethal for marine life and water quality. As the Clean Ocean Action’s blog says:

Plastic does not biodegrade, instead through a combination of chemical reactions and physical forces (including sunlight and waves) plastics can slowly break down into smaller and smaller pieces and in the process release toxic chemicals into the sea, such as Bisphenol A (BPA) and styrene trimer (a liquid hydrocarbon).

Plastic pieces can be deadly to marine life as they can be accidently ingested by or entangle wildlife.

Indeed, in 2011, volunteer found 20 animals dead due to being entangled in nylon balloon string, fishing line, and six-pack rings. Volunteers were able to free three entangled animals.

The 2011 Beach Sweep Report also says that 5,322 plastic hygiene products were found on the beaches. These items actually came via New York City: A July 2011 fire at one of NYC’s  sewage treatment plants released over 200 million gallons of raw sewage into New York and New Jersey waterways for three days straight and debris from the raw sewage ended up on New Jersey beaches.

Last August’s Hurricane Irene also resulted in some stranger than usual debris washing up on New Jersey beaches: an adult-sized Elmo costume, a 16-foot fiberglass boat, four car bumpers, a plastic kitchen set, a USPS mail bin, a metal bed frame, three propane tanks, a bag of garlic and a religious shrine. (The full list is can be read via the 2011 Beach Sweep Report.)

On April 21, volunteers will be walking New Jersey’s beaches in 76 locations and who knows what they’ll find. One thing’s for sure: We need to get the word out that people should dispose of items in appropriate places and not in our streams, lakes, rivers, bays, beaches and the ocean.


Related Care2 Coverage

Florida Lighthouse Tragically Leads Sea Turtles to Their Death

Plastic Bags of Dog Poop and Balloons Befoul Beaches

NRDC Study Finds U.S. Beaches More Polluted Than Ever


Photo by DanCentury


Sheri P.
Sheri P5 years ago

it just blows my mind why people would litter on a beach...don't they want to enjoy it for years to come? i don't get it...

richa blue akasha
Raiin Blue5 years ago

banning balloons from the beach areas might also help

Mark Donners
Mark Donner5 years ago

The best, and only solution for the tired and abused earth is simply to stop humans from breeding. Maybe earth will take ten million years to recover, but there's a chance it will survive the human holocaust and emerge as a pristine place once again.

Mark Donners
Mark Donner5 years ago

The best and only solution: reduce human breeding to zero. This tired, abused earth can't endure much more of that simian species.

Vicky Pitchford
Vicky P5 years ago

not the worse thing that could be there

Abraham Haouchar
Abraham H5 years ago

None of my friends care. they litter...:(They wont change.

Juliet Defarge
judith sanders5 years ago

If the police would start enforcing the litter laws, we'd take care of our state deficits in short order.

Lyn B.
Lyn B5 years ago

It's gotten worse not better (in terms of littering)

I'm just so disgusted with what's happening to our oceans and beaches.

John chapman
John chapman5 years ago

I pick up, on average, a full shopping bag a day, of broken glass, & plastic.

Saving it, thinking about mounting some as an art piece to call attention to littering, & recycling.

The cigarette filters, & plastic cigar tips, as well as disposable lighters are still here, just not as plentiful as the bottles, plastic caps, & assorted discards.

I draw the line at disposable diapers. I just bury them, & shake my head.

Kim W.
Kim W5 years ago

easy solution. remember when pop came only in bottles, and you had to pay a small fee, that you got back, didn't see them thrown around then. Charge a fee, then give it back when recycled. But, oh my then all those stores would have to interact with us paying customers,