Food wrappers surpass cigarette butts as top litter item along beaches, waterways

Published September 17, 2020, 2:15 PM

by Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz

Surpassing cigarette butts, food wrapper is now the top item collected along beaches and waterways worldwide, according to international non-government organization Ocean Conservancy.


In its 2020 International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) report released on Sept. 9, Ocean Conservancy said this is the first time that food wrapper is the number one reported item collected during the ICC. Cigarette butts containing plastic filters traditionally topped the list.

“Food wrappers are a uniquely challenging problem. They are effectively unrecyclable and there are few comparable alternatives that are more eco-friendly. If we happen to use a plastic bottle, we have the option of recycling it or, even better, using a reusable water bottle. We can opt for canvas bags at the grocery store. We can opt for reusable straws, or we can skip the straw altogether if we so choose,” Ocean Conservancy said in a social media post.

Cleanup volunteers across the world collected a record of nearly 4.8 million food wrappers compared to 4.2 million cigarette butts last year, the group said.

They also collected 1.9 million plastic beverage bottles, 1.5 million plastic bottle caps, and 942,992 straws and stirrers. A total of 20.8 million pounds of trash have been collected.

The Philippines’ Climate Change Commission (CCC) also warned the public on the surge of plastic pollution due to the global production and consumption of single-use masks, latex gloves, personal protective equipment (PPE), alcohol and hand sanitizer bottles, and disposable cleaning agents.

In a statement, the CCC pointed out that plastic waste may end up in oceans, break into microplastics, and be mistaken for food by marine animals, such as fish, which humans also consume.

It expressed concern on the increasing volume of single-use plastic wastes from take-out and online shopping deliveries, as the coronavirus pandemic restricted public mobility.

The CCC called on local governments and citizens to help in addressing plastic pollution through proper segregation at source, transportation, storage, transfer, processing, treatment, and disposal of solid waste and other waste management activities that do not harm the environment.

It also encouraged households and individuals to refuse disposable plastic cutlery when having food delivered and support businesses offering more sustainable delivery packaging, such as cardboard or compostable bags.

International Coastal Cleanup Day this Saturday

The 35th ICC, which is organized by the Ocean Conservancy, will be celebrated on Sept. 19. It is the largest volunteer activity in the world devoted to cleanup oceans and waterways.

While organizing coastal cleanup activities for volunteers is impossible due to the pandemic, Ocean Conservancy, and the Philippine’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said the public can still contribute to the global movement.  

By having “small” cleanups in our own homes, backyards, or community is a significant step to ensure that our trash does not end up in the oceans.

The DENR-National Capital Region DENR-NCR said those who will participate can record and audit the type and number of trash collected and submit it to the marine debris database called “Clean Swell.”

This mobile application is developed by Ocean Conservancy to help volunteers easily record and directly upload each item of trash they collect.

The database is used by scientists, conservation groups, governments, and industry leaders to study ocean trash and take action to ensure trash will never reach beaches.