Covid-19 Sidelined Clean Ocean Action’s 2020 Beach Sweeps

Volunteers who participated in last year's cleanups retrieved close to 500,000 items, including a car bumper, a toilet and a $6,000 diamond engagement ring.

clean ocean action

Clean Ocean Action’s 2019 Beach Sweeps Courtesy of Clean Ocean Action

Like almost everyone in New Jersey, the supporters of Clean Ocean Action had to adjust their routines this spring. Thousands of COA volunteers typically celebrate Earth Day every April by descending on the Jersey Shore (plus the Delaware and Hudson rivers) to collect bucketloads of plastic wrappers, foam food containers and empty soda bottles. 

This year, due to the state’s Covid-19 lockdown, the spring Beach Sweeps went virtual, with participants sharing memories from previous Shore cleanups. That meant a missed opportunity to gather debris, build awareness, and collect data needed to track trash trends.

“It’s very disappointing,” says COA coordinator Alison Jones. “With only half the data in 2020, we lose the overall ability to compare year-to-year findings.” 

[RELATED: Rutgers Professor On What Our Trash Reveals About Us]

Still, the Long Branch–based environmental organization had plenty to celebrate on its 35th anniversary. In 2019, a record 10,724 volunteers participated in COA’s two half-day sweeps, retrieving close to 500,000 items, including a car bumper, a wheelchair, a toilet and a $6,000 diamond engagement ring. (The ring, which had been buried in the sand in Asbury Park for two years, was returned to its owner.) Other debris—more than 100 commonly found items—was tallied on data cards.

The 2019 sweeps revealed decreases in plastic bags (down 13 percent from 2018), plastic bottles (down 15 percent) and drinking straws (down 2.85 percent). Jones attributes these declines to new laws in several municipalities restricting the use of disposable plastics. Foam take-out containers, which have not been included in most new legislation, were up almost 39 percent, while plastic cigar tips rose an inexplicable 43 percent. If COA is able to hold this fall’s planned sweeps, Jones anticipates a big increase in disposable gloves and face masks.

“We’re planning to update our data cards, adding items we’re seeing more of, like electronic cigarette cartridges and dental picks,” says Jones. “We may have to add face masks, too.”

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