A half-mile of cigarette butts on our beaches

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin 9/01/01)
By Ray Pendleton

The director of communications for the University of Hawaii's Sea Grant College Program, Priscilla Billig, calls it her "dirty dozen" list.

On it are the top 12 identifiable items collected from our bays and beaches during the annual "Get the Drift and Bag It" litter cleanup last September.

Now in its 15th year, this cleanup campaign is unique in that its volunteers are asked not only to bag the litter they find, but to catalog it as to its amounts and types.

For instance, of the 33,705 pounds of debris collected along some 138 miles of shoreline by 2,340 volunteers last year, the most commonly occurring item was the cigarette butt - 31,022 of them, to be exact.

The next two most common items were plastic and glass shards, at 14,358 and 10,286 pieces, respectively.

Litter items ranked nearly equal at fourth and fifth place were plastic foam (8,459) and glass bottles (8,441).

The sixth most common item was paper pieces (7,543), followed by plastic food bags (6,698), caps and lids (6,383), beverage cans (5,978), other plastic (5,448), metal bottle caps (4,522), and plastic bottles (3,703).

With such statistics, researchers can then attempt to determine the exact nature of our pollution problem and the best ways of eliminating their sources.

Sea Grant scientists estimate that debris ingestion, entanglement or both, affect 43 percent of all marine mammal species throughout the world.

The cataloging of the retrieved litter should also create a reminder for us in how we all play a part in the problem.

Behind every piece of litter, there is a person who didn't dispose of their trash properly.

It likewise seems to show that our community isn't doing as much as it might to clean our beaches, streets and parks before the refuse finds it way into our waterways.

The state coordinated this cleanup day until 1996, when the Litter Control Office was closed due to budgetary constraints. At that time, it had nearly 10,000 volunteers taking part.

Many cities have weekly street sweeping programs where every street is posted with "no parking" signs for a few hours on a given day of the week.

This allows a street sweeping machine complete access to the curb for a thorough street cleaning.

This year's statewide Get the Drift and Bag It litter cleanup will be on September 15, from 8:30 a.m. until noon.

Sea Grant will be partnering with the Hawaii Coastal Zone Management Program to coordinate the event and, not surprisingly, they are looking for a few thousand good volunteers.

I can only hope that they see a better turnout than last year, because the statistics for 2000 showed something of a downturn.

In 1999, nearly 4,300 volunteers took part in Get the Drift and Bag It event and, correspondingly, the gross weight of the litter topped out at close to 228,000 pounds - some 6 3/4-times more trash than last year.

If you or a group you belong to would like to get involved, please call the Sea Grant Program at (808) 956-2872.

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