Office Hour: Live Q&A on the 28th International Coastal Cleanup – Nick Mallos Will Answer Your Questions

Event Date: 
17 September 2013

Hosted by MarineDebris.Info

Held on: 17 September 2013

In this interactive 'Office Hour' chat on Sept. 17, Nick Mallos of Ocean Conservancy will take your questions on the upcoming 2013 International Coastal Cleanup. The annual Cleanup event, now in its 28th year, is an Ocean Conservancy initiative. Last year the Cleanup mobilized more than 560,000 volunteers and collected 10 million pounds of trash from coastlines worldwide.

nwehner: Hi everyone, this is Nick Wehner, Project Manager for MarineDebris.Info - our Chat provider is currently down, so we're reverting to plain-old commenting. If you'd like to post a question to Nick Mallos, please login with your MarineDebris.Info user account ( and post your comments here. Sorry for the inconvenience! 

nwehner: f you don't have an account already, you can create one for free (in about 30 seconds) at You can also just type in your Name and Email Address to post a question on the fly!

Blake Rupe: I've been looking into the use of GIS technology to uncover and locate marine debris. Is this something that you or Ocean Conservancy is interested in using or pursuing? 

nmallos (Nick Mallos): Yes. GIS is an incredibly powerful tool that not only offers analytic capability, but also provides a visually compelling way to view data. Over the coming year we'll be using GIS to map cleanup data around the world and overlay those data with other metrics and data layers like population density, land use characterization, etc. to create a more comprehensive picture of marine debris.

jdavis (John Davis): Hi Nick, thanks for doing this chat today. How much of the waste that's collected in each year's Intl Coastal Cleanup gets recycled?

nmallos: That's a great question, John, and one we receive quite frequently. Recycling rates of trash that's removed from beaches and shorelines varies significantly from site to site around the world because of various factors. Recycling infrastructure can be a challenge in some places but more often the degree to which trash is fouled by biological growth can be a barrier to recycling. With that said, Cleanup coordinators often partner with local waste management companies to recycle plastics and aluminum debris items that are in recyclable conditions.

We would love to find ways to increase the recycling and recovery rates of these materials so if you have any additional suggestions we welcome them.

Blake Rupe: Oh interesting! The results will be extremely useful. Thank you. I completed a debris quantification and classification study in Mexico over the summer and was blown away by the results I found.  Is there any advice you would give to us researchers about where you'd like to see more of these studies done?  Are there areas where we have no data and you'd like to see some uncovered?

nmallos: Indeed Blake....I actually have your data and images filed on my computer to upload into our database for year round data.

jbrodeur: Subject pretty much says it all! Has there been any further consideration of the idea? Would love to be able to contribute to a running tally that would make more of a difference, policy-wise, than my little spreadsheet! 

nmallos: Thanks Judy. We absolutely accept data forms year-round and in fact encourage volunteers around the world to send them to us electronically or by mail. We have an online data collection and reporting tool ( where we store all cleanup data collected during the cleanup as well as data from year-round efforts. Over the next year, we'll be making a more concerted effort to publicize this capability so that we can amass a more comprehensive dataset of the most persistent trash items.

With that said, the global snapshot that is obtained through the Cleanup shows very clearly that the same 8-10 items have been the most persistent items of debris on beaches for the past quarter century.

jdavis: Hi Nick: does the International Coastal Cleanup have a presence in Japan? If so, can you talk a bit about your work and partners there? I imagine there are significant challenges, both in terms of the extent of tsunami debris and the presence of radiation around the Fukushima area. Thanks.

nmallos: There's an extraordinary cleanup effort that takes place in Japan as well as a great partner organization, the Japan Environmental Action Network (JEAN), that works on the issue of marine debris year-round. Last year alone, JEAN hosted 111 Cleanup events on both the Japan Sea coast as well as the Pacific Ocean that brought out more than 8,000 volunteers who removed approximately 50,000 pounds of debris. Because of the intense fishing effort and plastics manufacturing effort that takes in surrounding waters and countries, the composition of debris on Japan's coastline can be astounding.

Ocean Conservancy's been fortunate to work closely with JEAN for the past three decades and since the 3/11 Tsunami we've been collaborating extensively on tsunami and marine debris research.

With regards to radioactivity in fish and seawater, there is no real concern about contamination reaching the West Coast of the United States. Because of the dilution that takes place once radiation enters the ocean, the concentrations that reach the U.S. coast are no more harmful than doses you and I receive in our daily routines. Here's a recent story specifically discussing this issue:

Blake Rupe: Have paths been paved in the way of policy preventing debris from reaching marine environments?  I'm aware of California's attempts at disuading the use of single-use plastics, but are there bigger policies at play anywhere?  I think the data collection that the International Coastal Cleanup spearheads is a great way to support the creation of policy, so curious if this has happened in any form. Thanks!

nmallos: Cleanup data have been used around the world to support and inform policy efforts attempting to mitigate debris and plastics. California is perhaps the best example of where individualize, local action can translate into larger, statewide awareness in the policy arena. This past spring, the California Assembly proposed AB 521 which would have made producers of the most abundant plastic pollution items on beaches and in teh environment responsible for recovering them at the end of their consumer life. Additionally, the entities responsible for these products would finance monitoring and upstream abatement efforts like stormwater capture.

At the end of the day though, picking these items off the beach and out of our rivers is still a sign of upstream failure. We need to think more critically about ways to apply a circular mentality to product design and waste management so that products are not designed with the intention of disposal.

jdavis: This is the 28th year of the International Coastal Cleanup. How has the nature of the collected debris changed over time, and do you see any signs that the problem of marine litter might be diminishing in any way? Thanks.

nmallos: The Cleanup provides an unparalleled global snapshot of trash plaguing our beaches and ocean but it's difficult to determine trends because of spatial and temporal variability over the years. What we can say is that regardless of the volunteer effort we see the same items appearing in the top 10 list each year. Those items are the same types of items you and I use in our daily lives--plastic bags, plastic bottles, caps/lids, etc. Moreover, the majority of items we have found over the past 3 decades are plastics: approximately 87%.

As I mentioned earlier, we're planning to apply population densities and land-use characteristics over the next year to better understand trends--if any--that have emerged since the inception of the Cleanup. Additionally, this year marks the first time we'll use our newly designed data form which captures information of collected debris with a much greater level of specificity.

Blake Rupe: With the UNCLOS, every country is allowed 44 km from their coasts to "rule" via domestic laws, ie where international pollution treaties don't apply.  Has this been viewed as problematic by the marine debris community?  Has there been movements internationally to address what is considered a "domestic"  issue legally? Is this only something NGO's can address?

nmallos: This is a great question, Blake, but unfortunately it's one for which I do not have a specific answer. NGOs do have a major role devising solutions to marine debris but ultimately we all have a role to play and only a holistic approach will truly solve this issue. We as consumers need to redefine our relationship with convenient, one-time use products while supporting business and product innovation through our collective purchasing power. We need to invest in the science needed for better decision-making. We  must advocate and support a transition to a circular economy in the industry sector while shifting the burden of proof to producers and manufacturers. And lastly we must advance public policies that incentivize  producers to internalize the environmental costs of the products from which they profit because ultimately plastic pollution and debris are some of the largest externalities we face as a global society.

jdavis: Is there an estimate for the amount of litter that enters the global ocean annually? If so, how does it compare to the amount of litter that is collected each year in the Cleanup?

nmallos: The most recent number comes from a National Academy of Science report in 1975 that estimated the annual input of ocean debris to be roughly 1.6 billion pounds per year. However, more recent estimates emerging from a scientific working group on marine debris estimate that this quantity could be upwards of 25 times greater. In any case, the amount debris entering our ocean each year is exorbitant and unsustainable.

When we compare these annual abundance to what is collected during the cleanup (10 million lbs. in 2012--less than .01% of annual inputs), it becomes clear that the Cleanup alone is not a solution. In fact, the Cleanup is the starting point of this issue not the end point. 

nmallos: Find a cleanup near you...

nwehner: Thank you for joining us and dealing with our technical difficulties! A transcript of the office hour will be posted here shortly. Many thanks to Nick Mallos for taking the time to answer these questions!