New Jersey's beaches are filthy, not that ours are any better: Do you remember the last time you took a swim in the Rockaways and emerged from the water without at least one rogue trash bit plastered to your body, or weird mystery pulp in your hair? I don't expect you do, because bathing at our local beaches can often feel like taking a garbage bath. Still, today we have numbers to quantify the Garden State's coastal squalor: Clean Ocean Action has released a report on its 2018 beach sweep, detailing trash trends on New Jersey beaches. Apparently, used condoms and balloons are very in.
Clean Ocean Action enlisted more than 10,000 volunteers to comb over 60 sites along the state's Atlantic coast, bayshores, rivers, lakes, and streams. Those intrepid teams collected 454,365 pieces of debris, painstakingly catalogued for posterity. According to the nonprofit, clean-up squads counted 565 condoms, a 56 percent increase from 2017, and 5,470 balloons, a 32 percent increase from 2017. That's an all-time high balloon record, FYI.
Balloons—and presumably also condoms, the balloon's cousin—create a particularly insidious brand of litter, clogging up our waterways and harming wildlife who mistake their deflated corpses for snacks. Clean Ocean Action believes the uptick offers "evidence" that New Jersey needs more targeted intervention against "intentional ballon releases," according to NJ.com. Hey, East Hampton agrees.
The balloon news is bad news, but on the bright side, more and more people would seem to be properly disposing of their cigarette butts these days. Sweep teams collected 21,998 butts in 2018, a 24 percent drop from 2017. But they also picked up a colorful bouquet of other garbage, including an actual bouquet, produce, coal, counterfeit currency, an old-timey railroad token, and various household appliances.
Here are my favorite found things:
• A bottle of urine, which the report identifies as a trucker bomb but may actually be a witch bottle
• Assorted doors, safe and Port-a-Potty
• A homemade bow
• A shoe with a bottle of hot sauce in it
• A metal cage
• Various booby trap materials: Barbed wire, metal knife (sans crutch, sorry), bottle rocket cone, fireworks
• Toy (adult)
• Doll arms and feet
• Christmas tree w/ trimmings (scattered across different beaches, I assume)
• Nirvana t-shirt
• Upper dentures
Dismayingly, though, beach-combers found significantly more plastic—both pieces and bottles—on the beaches than they did in 2017, which COA hopes will provide the necessary catalyst for the state to move from a bag fee to an all-out ban on single-use plastic products. According to the report, COA beach sweep data has been used in support of municipal plastic bans; now, they're hoping for some state-level legislation.
"The Beach Sweeps provides proof we humans can be a wasteful, sloppy, and pretty gross bunch," Cindy Zipf, the group's executive director, said in a statement to the Associated Press. "Who leaves diapers on the beach? It's bad enough that litter makes our beaches look terrible, but it also kills and maims marine life. The good news is that the beach sweeps also proves we have great capacity to respond to environmental harm."
We also have the capacity to discreetly dispose of our used condoms in appropriate receptacles, which is as true for New Jersey as it is for NYC. Just something to keep in mind as we head into beach season, and many thanks to those of you who took it upon yourselves to clean up the litter-buried beach in Brooklyn's Calvert Vaux Park.