The most common item found on beaches? Plastic cigarette butts

Surfrider Foundation San Diego County Chapter volunteers pick up trash on the beach near the Ocean Beach Pier in 2019.

Surfrider Foundation releases 2020 Beach Cleanup Report


Despite the challenges of COVID-19, which kept people home and reduced the number of cleanups, the Surfrider Foundation removed more than 80,000 pounds of mostly plastic trash from beaches and waterways in 2020, according to its annual Beach Cleanup Report released this week.

The San Diego chapter alone had 1,986 volunteers who collected almost 2,000 pounds of trash. Cigarette butts, most of which are made with a common form of plastic called cellulose acetate, were the most numerous single item, with 8,131 recorded locally. Otherwise, the refuse was plastic foam, plastic food wrappers, bottle caps and plastic fragments.

For the record:

1:17 p.m. July 26, 2021This article and its headline have been corrected to say that cigarette butts are one of the most common forms of plastic trash.

“Cleanup and individual action certainly helps, however we will never fix this problem unless we demand that our elected officials hold corporations responsible for the constant and ever-growing stream of plastic pollution they are inundating us with,” said Mitch Silverstein, the San Diego chapter manager.

Phil Diehl on the San Diego News Fix:

“We pay the price in taxpayer-funded cleanup costs, not to mention the toll to our clean water, clean air, clean seafood and marine ecosystems in general,” Silverstein said by email Tuesday.

San Diego chapter volunteers have supported local ordinances to reduce single-use plastics and ban plastic bags, EPS foam and other efforts to reduce plastic waste, he said.

Nearly 90 percent of all items Surfrider removed from beaches nationwide were plastic, according to the foundation’s 2020 report.

More than 2,270 disposable face masks and gloves were picked up from June through December 2020, showing that these items became a significant new source of pollution.

“What’s worse is that the vast majority of single-use masks and gloves on the market are made from plastic, meaning they will break apart over time and become microplastics, which are now ubiquitous in the environment and our bodies,” states the Surfrider annual report.

Surfrider completed 927 beach and waterway cleanups in 2020. More than one-third of those, or 368, were in California. Next was the mid-Atlantic region with 192 cleanups, followed by Hawaii with 181.