New Jersey's rivers, streams and shoreline are apparently seen as one giant dumpster to countless residents and visitors.

And if no one had a good heart, that's probably what our waterways would truly resemble.

But, luckily, droves of volunteers — organized by nonprofits, clubs and the state of New Jersey — are making regular attempts to clear the state's waters of trash.

Unfortunately, it keeps coming back.

"For a lot of people, it just seems easier still to just dump their trash somewhere rather than try to get rid of it the right way," said Jens Riedel, president of the Central Jersey Stream Team.

Over the nonprofit's five years in existence, volunteers have pulled more than 4,500 tires from the Raritan River and its tributaries.

The team's also recovered mattresses, bicycles, shopping carts, and entire vehicles from a 36-mile stretch of the river, Riedel said, along with "untold tons of other trash" such as bottles and wrappers.

"We've done some of those sections a number of times because there's areas that need to be cleaned a number of times," Riedel said.

More than 6 million pieces of marine debris have been cleared from the state's shoreline during 30-plus years of "beach sweeps" organized by Clean Ocean Action. In 2017 alone, thousands of sweepers collected 373,686 items — much of which washed ashore over the winter months.

Nearly 85 percent of waste found was plastic. Significant increases were registered in the number of plastic pieces, plastic caps and lids, plastic straws and stirrers, and foam pieces recovered.

Beach Sweeps volunteers at Bradley Beach with a styrofoam boulder
Beach Sweeps volunteers at Bradley Beach with a styrofoam boulder (Clean Ocean Action)

"I do think that the vast majority is just a lot of litter on the streets," said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action. "The streets get washed off during rain storms, and all that storm water with the litter and the garbage juice and whatever else is on the street gets washed into the storm drains and they're a direct conduit into our local waterways."

Zipf said the group has not seen an improvement in the amount of waste littering New Jersey's beaches, but she believes today's younger generation is more aware of the dangers of using plastics.

The cleanup event most recently hit New Jersey's beaches on Apr. 21. Some odd items catalogued include a turkey baster, a full paint bucket and a fire extinguisher.

New Jersey Clean Communities, a statewide litter-abatement program, generates about $20 million annually to fund anti-litter projects in towns, counties and state parks. The nonprofit works closely with the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of the Treasury to administer the program.

The DEP also sponsors cleanup events focusing specifically on the Barnegat Bay and tidal shorelines.

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