Taking out the Trash

International Coastal Cleanup day

Written BY

Caroline Silsbury

Caroline Silsbury has been with the park for over 30 years. Most of that time spent volunteering with us.

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March 14, 2021

... the never ending story

Last Friday, Jamaica Environment Trust planned to launch the 2021 International Coastal Cleanup.  The actual event is intended to take place over two days, Saturday September 18 and Sunday September 19, COVID restrictions permitting.  JET had intended to spend the next month encouraging prospective cleaners to volunteer, and registering more cleanup sites in addition to the 182 already on the books.

However, the launch has been abruptly “postponed until further notice”.  Government’s latest COVID lockdown measures don’t (so far) conflict with the actual cleanup but certainly make it difficult to schedule information meetings and support rallies.

For more than 30 years, the third Saturday in September has been International Coastal Cleanup Day.  Volunteers around the world turned out, trash bags and clipboards in hand, to clear garbage and litter from their shores.  Organized by The Ocean Conservancy, the ICC is one of the High Holy Days on the environmental calendar.  In 2019 (the last year for which complete figures are available) 943,195 people in 120 countries collected 20.8 million pounds of litter from 24,456 miles of shoreline.  It was all sorted, counted, weighed and recorded.  The records give both a snapshot and a historical record of the trash dumped in and around the world’s oceans and waterways.

Jamaicans have embraced the Cleanup with enthusiasm.  In 2019, Jamaica was ranked as the 10th largest ICC event in the world.  There were cleanups in every parish, with a turnout of more than 12,000 volunteers who cleaned over 146,000 pounds of garbage from Jamaican beaches.  That’s about 12 pounds each.  

This year’s volunteers should have little difficulty matching it, especially with cruise ships returning.  There seems to be an endless supply of trash.  The sites for which the Marine Park Trust is responsible are all well supplied with waste bins and these are regularly cleared by garbage trucks.  Also, these sites are cleaned every couple of months by volunteers, who have no trouble filling their big bags with bottles, food containers and household garbage.  There’s still plenty to do on ICC Day.

Last year, with most of the world on lockdown, the big ICC event didn’t happen but the principal sponsor found a way to keep the collection record going.  The Ocean Conservancy’s Clean Swell app is available from the App Store or Google Play.  A volunteer cleaner using the app simply records each item of trash collected.  Weight and distance covered are calculated automatically and added to the cleaner’s historical record.  Most importantly, this data is immediately uploaded to the Ocean Conservancy’s massive historical data base of the world’s shoreline trash.

That data base is the most useful result of Cleanup Day.  The historical record of millions of tons of trash is an abiding reminder that the problem is not going away.  It also shows some interesting trends, like the decline in plastic bags and the rise of cigarette butts in the totals, as government bans on indoor smoking and single-use plastics took effect.  It will be interesting to see whether the niche vacated by plastic bags will be filled this year with COVID waste.  Increasing numbers of disposable gloves, masks and wipes have been reported clogging storm drains and fouling seashores in the U.S. and Europe for the past year.

JET may have further news about the ICC campaign by the end of this month.  Meanwhile, anyone who wants to do a beach or roadside or gully cleanup is free to do so, on the day of your choice.  Just download the Clean Swell app, get a couple of family members or friends to help, and remember to follow all the COVID protocols.  Also, please let the Marine Park Trust (876-952-5619) know what you plan to do, so we can avoid double coverage of the same areas.

Further Reading