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2 decorated fake Christmas trees among trash left on Jersey beaches

Dirty Dozen 2016
The “Dirty Dozen” of Clean Ocean Action’s 2016 beach sweeps (Clean Ocean Action)

What do two bike seats, a car door and three fake Christmas trees have in common?

They were all found on New Jersey beaches in 2016. Two of those trees were still decorated.

A pair of beach sweeps in the spring and fall, hosted by Clean Ocean Action, gathered more than 218,000 items at more than 70 sites throughout New Jersey.

The coalition on Wednesday announced the findings of their 31st annual sweeps, which attracted the help of nearly 4,000 volunteers.

“The beach debris is not only ugly, but it’s also harmful and lethal to marine life,” said Cindy Zipf, COA executive director. “It’s tragic to see some of the osprey nests already out here at Sandy Hook have used plastic bags and other pieces of litter in their nesting materials.”

As in recent years, plastics made up the overwhelming majority of items collected. More than 81 percent of the items were plastic or foam plastic.

Among COA’s “dirty dozen” — the 12 most commonly-collected pieces of debris — seven spots were filled by single-use disposable plastic items such as straws, shopping bags and candy wrappers.

More than 20,000 cigarette butts were recorded during the sweeps, along with 3,581 cigar tips.

Brick Beach Volunteers with large foam plastic piece
Brick Beach Volunteers with large foam plastic piece (Clean Ocean Action)

According to Zipf, information recorded through their beach sweeps has helped municipalities successfully implement smoking bans on their beaches.

Some of the wildest discoveries by volunteers include a set of dentures, a shower curtain, two bikes, a pregnancy test and a pick-up truck bed cover. Someone also picked up a $10 bill.

The collected trash is thrown away or recycled at locations agreed upon with individual towns. At the Sandy Hook site, a dumpster container was donated by Bayshore Recycling. Zipf said some material is getting re-purposed into Head & Shoulders shampoo bottles, thanks to Trenton-based TerraCycle.

The number of trash items collected in 2016 was much lower than previous years, but not because folks are getting better at picking up after themselves. The fall cleanup date was met with rain and gusty winds, resulting in a lower volunteer turnout.

In 2015, over 6,375 volunteers helped remove more than 332,000 pieces of debris.

Anyone interested in joining the beach cleanup effort can register for Clean Ocean Action’s 2017 beach sweeps. The first is Saturday, April 22 from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

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