'The scary truth': Coastal Cleanup sheds light on impacts of marine debris, trash

Staff Reporter
The Destin Log

More than 30 volunteers carrying trash bags took to Norriego Point Saturday morning to collect trash from the city park.

"We removed a lot of food wrappers and plastic bottles. The most common item was cigarette butts," said Doug Rainer, public information manager for the city of Destin. "Unfortunately, it seems that the beach and waterways are popular places to dispose of cigarettes. A cigarette butt is considered litter."

The city of Destin partnered with the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance(CBA), Okaloosa County Environmental Council and Tourist Development Department, the city of Fort Walton Beach, and Eglin Air Force Base as part of the International Coastal Cleanup initiative. In addition to cleaning at Norriego Point, groups of volunteers also picked up trash at Liza Jackson Park in Fort Walton Beach and Bay Flats recreation area in Walton County.

As they canvassed Norriego Point, Rainer said there was quite a bit of trash to collect.

"We removed a good bit of debris from Norriego Point," he said. "It was surprising to see the amount of small pieces of trash, however they tend to be easily missed. This cleanup effort was aimed at removing all trash, large and small."

Just at Norriego Point alone, a total of 3,245 cigarette butts, 102 food wrappers, 161 plastic bottle caps, 74 metal bottle caps, 97 straws/stirrers and 77 beverage bottles (plastic or glass) were picked up.

According to Sarah Davis, CBA outreach coordinator, one cigarette butt takes 10-12 years to decompose. So, collectively, it would take 32,450-38,940 years for all of the cigarette butts collected Saturday to decompose.

“When we address the issue of marine debris and coordinate a cleanup effort, the end result can be startling," she told The Log. "CBA hopes that by sharing the quantities of trash-types that were left behind along the shoreline, eyes will be opened to the reality of the issue. Many of the items picked up will out-live those who left them behind, that is the scary truth."

Davis said marine debris can take centuries to decompose, which "piled up over time can result in serious decline in the health of our waterways."

Here's a few examples of common items and how long it takes them to decompose. Tin can: 50 years; Styrofoam cup: 75 years; aluminum can: 200 years; plastic six-pack rings: 400 years, diaper: 450 years; monofilament: 600 years; and glass bottles/jars: undetermined.

"As a community, we have to spread awareness for the effects of marine debris, and go the extra mile to reduce the amount being left behind.”

To learn more about the CBA, see http://www.basinalliance.org/.

Between three cleanup sites, volunteers collected:

* 5,195 cigarette butts

* 630 food wrappers

* 20 plastic takeout containers

* 22 foam takeout containers

* 271 plastic bottle caps

* 128 metal bottle caps

* 192 beverage bottles

* 174 straws/stirrers

* 149 beverage cans

* 64 plastic grocery bags

* 153 other plastic bags

* 76 balloons

* 45 cigar tips

* 157 fireworks

By the numbers