What is On Our Beaches?

At seven in the morning every day, more than 40 cleaners comb through East Coast Park to pick up trash that has been washed up on our shorelines from the night before. Therein lies the question, what are the types of trash that wash up on Singapore’ shores, and where do they come from? Due to the monsoon, the changing tides are constantly bringing in more trash from the sea, and simultaneously  pulling back any trash that has been left on the beach previously.

Here in Singapore, some forms of   trash you can find in abundance are; foam pieces, cigarette butts, plastic pieces, plastic beverage bottles, straws/stirrers, food wrappers, other plastic bags, other plastic/foam packaging, plastic bottle caps, plastic cups/plates. This data was collected through the annual efforts from the International Coastal Cleanup, Singapore (ICCS)  from 2018 onwards. Here are three types of trash that are most commonly found on our beaches – and  have a heavy impact on the coastal environment

1. Foam Pieces

Accounting for 26% of beach trash (ICCS Data, 2018), foam pieces are in the lead for trash that is most commonly found on beaches.While that might not seem like a significant amount to most people, the foam pieces collectively accumulate to 42,445+ pieces. Unfortunately, each year people are finding more foam pieces being washed up or dumped on the beaches. Most of the foam pieces come from the local hawker centers here in Singapore; styrofoam containers are still much cheaper compared to other disposable ware like plastic containers, coated paper boxes, etc. During the beach cleanups I have been to in the past, I  collected foam pieces of different shapes and sizes and wondered how it managed to remain for such a long time and what it could have been made of. Styrofoam, otherwise known as, “extruded polystyrene foam” (EPS) is non-biodegradable and environmentally unfriendly. While it might be convenient for hawker centers and night market stalls, styrofoam is also known to leak chemicals, contaminating food.

 New York, Penang, a few California cities, Minneapolis, and Seattle are among the few cities that have  banned styrofoam usage. The Singapore government currently has not imposed a firm ban on the use of disposable plates, bowls, utensils, etc., of styrofoam at hawker centers but merely discourages the use of styrofoam containers. It might be tough during COVID-19 to be able to bring your own containers to hawker stalls for safety reasons, but hopefully, in the future, hawker centers, night markets, etc., will be enforcing the ban of styrofoam containers and utilities for food.

2. Cigarette Butts

As smoking is not outlawed in Singapore, many people like to go to the beach to have a smoke; Singapore has restrictions for where people can smoke. As many of us already know, smoking has many health implications. But it also negatively impacts the environment. In the ICCS data from 2018, cigarette butts accounted for the second highest collection of trash with 13% with a total of 20,915+ pieces collected throughout Singapore beaches. Cigarettes are harmful to the environment as they are toxic waste, and contain chemicals that contaminate the waterways, ground soil, and can harm wildlife. I always knew that smoking is bad for our health but never knew that it would also be harmful for the wildlife until recently having found out that the filters in cigarette butts are made of plastic. The plastic is made of cellulose acetate, a type of plastic that is not readily biodegradable. Eventually, the pieces of the filter will break down into tiny pieces and those pieces will continue to exist within the marine environment.

Cigarette butts are also filled with toxic chemicals. Around 600 additives are used to manufacture cigarettes, ranging from retaining moisture in the tobacco all the way to artificial flavoring to accommodate smokers’ tolerance. Some chemicals in cigarette butts may contain arsenic, nicotine, various heavy metals and a class compound called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that are released into the environment from discarded cigarette butts. (Perhaps elaborate why these chemical releases are bad) These chemicals, however, are only released when a cigarette is lit, so this leads to about 7,000 chemicals in the cigarette smoke with around 69 carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) among the chemicals, including many more toxic chemicals.

3. Plastic Materials

Making up 90% of beach trash, plastic is the most common waste type. For the 2018 ICCS cleanup, the total was 10% in leading trash found on local Singapore beaches. It poses the question, why is plastic the most common and abundant type of trash that one would find at a beach? This is because many plastic products are physically broken down into smaller pieces. Microplastics are a result of the degradation of larger items like plastic bags, for instance. Many of these microplastics can be found primarily in facial scrubs or cosmetics, resin pellets, and synthetic fibers. These microplastics that are washed away by the waves take longer to degrade in the sea due to the lower temperatures and salt presence than they would on land. This shows us that while plastic is convenient and durable it has negative effects on the environment and can also have negative effects on humans.

Microplastics are primarily less than five millimeters (mm) in size and  are unsafe for the ocean as plankton in the ocean are eaten by marine creatures. With microplastics, they have been known to be found in human excrements due to humans eating fish and different types of seafood. As many marine animals believe that the plastic floating in the ocean are food, i.e, Green Sea Turtles might mistaken a  plastic bag for jellyfish. Algae, that is consumed by krill, serves as the base of the food chain. Krill can mistaken microplastics for algae and when consumed, the microplastics would then proceed to enter the food chain, with humans sitting at the very top as apex predators.

More than 400 types of bacteria have been discovered on micro-plastics which were then identified within DNA sequencing. A third of the type of bacteria were considered toxic while about 40% had some useful properties. The latter are able to biodegrade marine pollutants like hydrocarbons, but, for the other remaining bacteria, it is yet to be known whether it is toxic or if it could be beneficial.

Potential Problems during COVID-19

Now during the time of the Coronavirus, we are seeing more appearances of new types of trash: Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) littered along the beaches. Many people doing beach cleanups have found a number of masks, gloves, and syringes on the shores. While the number is relatively small, as we dive deeper into COVID-19, there could be a rise in those numbers and potentially more PPE found on shores. Medical waste has also been found on the shorelines of Cote d’Azur (Southeast France) and the Cilincing and Maruda rivers in Indonesia and may slowly appear in other parts of the world.

Conclusion

Trash is a leading problem whether it is on the beach or in the center of a city, but concerns are rising as more trash is showing up on beaches and proceeding to get dragged by the waves and into the sea where they can cause damage to marine life. Hopefully, while the COVID-19 pandemic continues on, we can continue to help the environment out by cleaning up these types of trash that can make a difference to both marine lifestyle and human lifestyle. It is also important for us to use designated trash cans in order for us to safely dispose of our recyclables for our daily trash amounts and if possible, use your own containers brought from home.


Find more articles on seastainable.co


How you can help clean up beaches during COVID-19

As we dive deeper into COVID-19, most of us are feeling frustrated working from home. Plastic usage around the world has increased and some of us who have done beach cleanups before or are interested in participating in a beach cleanup in the future might wonder about how we could help out our local beaches. For some background information, there has been more COVID-19 related trash like masks, gloves, syringes, etc., washing up on our beaches. As we get further into the global pandemic, we are finding more and more medical items on our beaches. More PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) are showing up on beaches and bodies of water. Indonesian researchers have found that 16% of medical waste is comprised of the total garbage that floats in rivers and oceans.

As 14 billion pounds of plastic are dumped into the ocean each year, we should help reduce that amount even if you might wonder, “Will helping clean up trash at a beach cleanup really make a difference to the 14 billion pounds of existing trash?” The answer is yes, even the smallest difference will help. We find even the smallest of candy wrappers or pieces of styrofoam takeout containers to the largest things like ropes or construction materials.

The benefits of participating in a beach cleanup

Whether it is your first beach cleanup or your fifth, beach cleanups are worth taking even if it’s five minutes out of your day when you walk by the beach. From my past experience, I have always found that beach cleanups are a way to give back to the environment especially when surrounded by plastic use on a daily basis. In the past, beach cleanups were a way to stop adding more trash from being carried by the tide and into the ocean which would harm marine animals. In the past, we were able to go with friends, volunteer groups, family, etc., in order to help pick up trash that got stuck within the sand or that were washed up by the tide. As plastic continues to wash up and pile up on our shores, it’s important that we begin to help reduce those numbers from officially stopping our enjoyment of our beaches and even possibly restricting our future visits to the beach.

If we can continue to clean the beaches, everyone who wants to go there does not have to be worried about constantly seeing trash wherever they walk. Even if you can’t go to the beach every weekend or whenever you can, you can always go when you have spare time within the month or when you can, with family or friends. Even the smallest trash you help pick up can help the ocean and the marine creatures. And if you might not be able to go to the beach at all, you can always use reusable materials for food, home-related materials, even work-related materials can be used with reusable equipment. The benefits of cleanups are that anyone can do it for free and help the environment as they do it. They don’t require experience but they require you to get your hands dirty.

Even if we don’t realize, trash is constantly washing up on our shores and this is problematic for the wildlife because we don’t know how much of that trash has already been picked up by animals. Cleanups help prevent further animals from consuming even more trash that will harm animals and in turn, harm humans. “How can they harm humans?” You might ask? Well as most of us eat fish or seafood, we might not realize that there are microplastics in the ocean that have already been ingested by marine creatures that we eat. As many marine creatures have a diet of plankton, marine creatures cannot distinguish microplastics and phytoplankton. Slowly, due to the food chain, smaller fish are eaten by bigger fish and we eat fish like bass, tuna, salmon, etc., that eat smaller fish and we, in turn, are eating microplastics that are invisible to the human eye.

If we can continue to clean the beaches, everyone who wants to go there does not have to be worried about constantly seeing trash wherever they walk. Even if you can’t go to the beach every weekend or whenever you can, you can always go when you have spare time within the month or when you can, with family or friends. Even the smallest trash you help pick up can help the ocean and the marine creatures. And if you might not be able to go to the beach at all, you can always use reusable materials for food, home-related materials, even work-related materials can be used with reusable equipment. The benefits of cleanups are that anyone can do it for free and help the environment as they do it. They don’t require experience but they require you to get your hands dirty.

As we continue to stay at home for work and education, the amounts of trash that we are using increases and that can also push more trash to wash up onto the beaches or be dumped around our beaches and/or streets. Working from home also pushes us to go out less, so when going out to the beach on the weekends, take time to pick up that trash that has been bothering you for a few minutes, sitting there, covered in sand and ocean water, the sun reflecting off its unbreakable exterior.

But what if you’re too busy on a daily basis to even go to the beach? Can you still help pick up trash without taking too much time out of your day to help? Absolutely.

Here are two amazing solutions to how you can still help clean the beach.

1. Clean up the beach with family and friends

Finding time to do beach cleanups when you are working every day is tough, but you can take a break from work and enjoy time with the family or even with friends to help pick up trash. You don’t always have to pick up trash alone when you’re getting air but you can have a nice time helping save our oceans with people you care about. From past beach cleanups, I have picked up many broken down styrofoam takeout box pieces, which is one of the biggest contributors to the pollution on the beaches. You don’t have to worry about scouting the whole beach for trash, you can always focus on one area and slowly move on. And if you don’t find too much trash and time is not on your side, the trash that you picked up in one sitting still benefits the oceans and the marine creatures.

2. Pick up trash as your daily/weekly exercise

Ever since COVID-19, I have found that the only source of exercise I got was a 30 min workout in front of my TV, but, I missed going out, I missed working out at the gym and then walking out to the gust of wind blowing in my sweaty face and feeling the heat bounce off my skin. Even if you exercise for 30 minutes a day and can’t spend much time on the beach, picking up a trash or two and throwing it into the trash can where it should have been helps greatly. And the great thing about doing this is that you’re also getting sun! Taking time to exercise or even walk casually outside on the beach if it is possible for you can help you get Vitamin D that you might find you perhaps lack especially during the time of COVID-19.

SMALL CLEAN UPS, BIG IMPACTS.

Whether it’s five minutes out of your day or week or even when you’re free, scan your local beach. Don’t worry if other people are giving you weird looks because what you’re doing is helping the environment. and prevent beaches from closing down because of how dirty it is. Know that you’re giving back to the environment after using plastic and that you’re making an effort to provide a safer and cleaner space for everyone, animals and humans alike.

So grab an old plastic bag, some old gloves or plastic gloves, and an old tong that you don’t mind picking up trash with  — or use your bare hands or gloves — to pick up trash and go forth and conquer.


For more information if you are interested in going on your first beach cleanup, check out these links:

Top Tips for a Successful Beach Clean-upHow To Do A Beach Cleanup (While Practicing Physical Distancing),

Beyond the beach clean-up,

Beach Cleanup Tips and Ideas,

Singapore Beach Cleanup: How to Organize Your Own and Teach Kids to Go Green.

#CleanOn 2020 International Coastal Cleanup by Ocean Conservancy


Find the original post at seastainable.co where I wrote my first article!


What It Was Like Doing Beach Clean-Ups

I’m about to be a senior in high school and I remember when I was a freshman, I joined a service club called Blue Planet Initiative and that was what had me start participating in beach cleanups. If I never joined the club I most likely would never had the opportunity to do these events and help out the ocean and make the beaches where I live cleaner.

Some things that I learned while doing these beach clean-ups is that even though we have all these trashcans and recycle bins, everyone chooses to throw their trash in the ocean. Why is that? What is it about the ocean that makes people think “trash can” and throw all kinds of things in the ocean? I picked up literal thousands of cigarette butts, styrofoam takeaway boxes that were in pieces from being torn apart in the ocean, and a huge trash factor: plastic.

Some of these things were rather depressing to see because it saddened me to see that people — even with tons of notice and being educated on the news — still throw away their trash in their ocean. One thing that we had to do during these clean-ups is keep tally as to how much of each trash was collected and some of these numbers rose to 10,000 with no exaggeration. It felt heartbreaking to see that the oceans in front of me were completely lifeless and no one was swimming or playing on the beaches. Visible trash were laying on the sand either out in the open or covered by the sand. My group that I was with that day managed to collect many bags of trash from just these beaches alone.

I used to think that the oceans and beaches would not have as much trash as it did but in truth, the beaches that I volunteered to help clean up were absolutely saddening. This world isn’t our world, its the marine animals’ world. This is a Blue Planet, the oceans and seas ruled the world much longer than the land and earth did yet we treat it with disrespect, both land and sea.

So guys, when you’re on the beach, please don’t hesitate to pick up trash or anything that doesn’t belong on a beach into the trash cans for everyone’s safety: humans and animals alike. It’s so important that we don’t trash up this world.

Have you guys ever participated in a beach clean-up? I would love to hear your thoughts down in the comments below! Have a great day everyone!

Loves,

Veronica Chen


Reusing Old Materials

These days I find that I am in need of watching what I throw away because it might actually be useful. I usually always recycle but sometimes there are things that I have discovered could actually be really handy for organizing. I’m big on organization so when I discover new things to use for keeping things neat I will gladly take it.

One thing I like to use when it comes to reusing is boxes or jars or anything that things can be stored in. I recently got old honey jars that my family used and turned that into a pen holder. These pens were usually in my pencil case but because I won’t be going out anytime soon I found it useless to always put my pen or pencil back when I could just take it out of the jar. While I may do this now, I know that when we are allowed back out and/or I go back to school, I will use my pencil case again. By keeping these jars and boxes I was able to store daily things that I use in these said boxes and not clutter up my desk that would have been a mess in the past.

The second thing that I have been doing is using old notebooks. I am always hoarding notebooks so I have tons of unused notebooks, lined, gridded, and blank notebooks so lately I have been slowly using them up for different purposes. I’m not one to have multiple diaries or sketchbooks or journals so I usually have one notebook for one subject. If you’ve got empty notebooks remember to always finish that notebook first before going onto a new one.

The third thing that I have been doing is using pens that can be refilled or using mechanical pencils. While I have not completely cut off using wooden pencils, I usually use a mechanical pencil for day to day writing. Before self-quarantine I had gotten refillable pens and tons and tons of refills. I got my four main colors; black, navy blue, gray, and red. It’s great to use refillable pens or pencils that can last for a long time.

What are somethings that weren’t listed that you guys reuse? I would love to hear it down in the comments!

Loves,

Veronica Chen