PPE pollution on New Jersey beaches, but plastic is the biggest problem

The coronavirus pandemic is even leaving its mark on the beaches of New Jersey.

Volunteers removed hundreds of face masks and more than 1,000 personal protective equipment from beaches in the past year, according to a new report from an environmental group tracking this new form of pollution.

Clean Ocean Action, which organized beach cleanings in more than 60 locations across the state last fall, said 680 face masks and 92 disinfectant wipes were collected during the environmental group’s fall event.

In total, 1,113 pieces of PPE were removed from the environment during the beach sweeps, according to the organization’s latest report.

An earlier spring cleaning campaign was canceled due to the spread of COVID-19.

Last year, Clean Ocean Action started tracking down pandemic-related personal protective equipment (PPE) waste.

“We started to see everything on the street,” said the managing director Cindy Zipf. “Wear your PPE but be responsible and manage it properly.”

Despite the ubiquity of PPE, according to the report by Clean Ocean Action, litter makes up less than 1% of all litter removed from New Jersey beaches last fall.

The largest source of pollution on these beaches – 72% of the garbage collected – is plastic: grocery bags, food packaging, bottles and caps, among others.

A can is shown on Sandy Hook Beach in 2015, near Clean Ocean Action and volunteers cleaning up the beach.

Plastic is becoming a “global plague,” said Zipf.

To tackle the trash, Clean Ocean Action is looking for volunteers to help clean up the beaches and record trash data during the April 17th Beach Sweeps.

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Last fall, Beach Sweeps volunteers collected 185,221 pieces of trash, of which 134,272 were plastic pieces, according to the new report.

If plastics get into the environment, they can entangle marine life or kill animals that eat them, according to the federal environmental protection agency. Plastics can also leach chemicals and toxins into organisms and the environment, while the agency says it takes centuries to break down.

Volunteers cleaning a beach in Asbury Park in 2017.

When plastic breaks into smaller and smaller pieces, it becomes “microplastic”. The material can then easily pass through water filtration systems and land in the ocean or other bodies of water, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The agency’s Marine Debris Program studies the effects of microplastics on the environment.

“We are now finding these microplastic particles in fish, all marine animals, even at the deepest levels of the ocean,” said Senator Bob Smith, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. “When we take air samples in the Alps, we get an enormous number of plastic particles. We humans literally eat and breathe this plastic material into our bodies.”

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Smith and Clean Ocean Action are calling on state lawmakers to set stricter limits on single-use plastics. Smith sponsors Senate Bill 2515, the proposed “Recycled Content” bill that, if approved, requires paper transport bags, plastic garbage bags, and glass and plastic containers to contain a minimum amount of recycled material when sold or manufactured in New Jersey.

A volunteer cleans a beach in Asbury Park in 2017.

The senator said too little of New Jersey’s roadside recyclables is being used in manufacturing. When China reduced imports of American recycled products in 2018 and imposed tariffs on the material, only a few places in the country had recyclable materials.

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As a result, many recyclable products now end up in landfills, Smith said.

“Churches used to have a line in their budget where they at least breakeven or maybe made a few dollars (for collecting recycling),” he said. “You are not now because there are no markets for recycled materials.”

Smith hopes the recycled content bill will change that and help remove plastic and other recyclable waste from New Jersey beaches.

The Senator said, “I’m looking forward to the day when there will be no beach sweepers because there is no need for beach sweepers and we humans treat our resources responsibly and systems are in place to maintain them.” Plastics from the environment. ”

Clean Ocean Action will hold its next series of beach sweeps from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 17th in 67 locations across New Jersey. Registration is required at www.CleanOceanAction.org.

Amanda Oglesby is from Ocean County and covers the townships of Brick, Barnegat and Lacey as well as the environment. She has worked for the press for more than a decade. Reach her at @OglesbyAPP, [email protected], or 732-557-5701.

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