It’s inspiring to once again have witnessed the power of the people successfully working for a common cause. In this case, for International Coastal Cleanup Day 2018, which took place on September 15.

What started over 30 years ago, with just two individuals and their idea to bring people together with the common goal of removing trash from our beaches, has turned into a true global movement.

Coastal Cleanup Day has effectively “harnessed the power of the people to fight ocean trash” – with tens of thousands of volunteers and hundreds of organizations participating Coastal Cleanup Day 2018. Collectively, individuals have joined a movement to voice the importance of protecting our oceans and lands, and to take an action to correct our wasteful lifestyle.

Though we need to protect our environment from all trash and pollution, the dominant waste collected is plastic. The misconception that this man-made material will harmlessly go away, our addiction to single-use plastic and the lack of plastic waste management has resulted in a global epidemic of plastic pollution.

Top 10 from 2017 International Coastal Cleanup DayThe top 10 trash items collected on International Coastal Cleanup Day 2017 were all plastic.

It is bad enough that trash turns our beautiful beaches into landfills but the plastic pollution is also affecting the animals and coral reefs. What we can’t see during beach cleanups are the microplastics. As plastics make its way into our oceans, the sun, salt and wave action breaks up big pieces of plastic into millions of small pieces.

Microplastics are, without question, not a coastal beach problem, but a global problem affecting fresh water and land-based ecosystems. Scientists have found significantly large amounts of microplastics in rivers and soil, spread by household and industrial waste.

The International Coastal Cleanup began more than 30 years ago and in that time our plastic consumption has increased. We now know that plastic has a negative impact and we know where it is coming from. We now need to clean up our mess, and more importantly, we need to cut it off at the source.

Awareness is key. While we applaud the short-term benefits of a beach cleanup, for us, the bigger value they have is in bringing awareness to the topic, as we find that once people are informed, they will change and thus become part of the solution. Plastic Oceans International will continue to push the global movement to rethink how we use and manage plastic. We are actively orchestrating plastic reduction initiatives and also shining the light on those that are making the effort to create a true wave of change.

Please enjoy these images from the coastal and sea cleanup that our Plastic Oceans Chile team helped organize in Quintay, Chile: