The COVID-19 pandemic has reached the one year mark. One year of change, of loss, of resilience, and of learning. For Surfrider’s Beach Cleanup program, this past year has presented challenges to cleanup efforts, including beach closures, limits on gatherings and the addition of new commonly found items. Join us as we take a look back and see how things have changed on our beaches in the year since the pandemic began and where we are headed.

In order to get a clear look at the impacts of the year, we examined the previous year’s cleanup results and compared them to the data collected during the last year. Specifically, we looked at data collected from March 2019 to February 2020 and compared it to data collected from March 2020 to February 2021. Here’s what we found.

Despite a nearly 91% decrease in the number of volunteers doing cleanups, Surfrider was able to host 900 cleanups - only 39 less than the previous year. This is thanks to our dedicated network of citizen scientists who switched from large cleanups to solo or small group cleanups. These efforts allowed people to clean areas other than beaches, including neighborhoods, lakes and riverbeds. Yet, in spite of more hours spent doing cleanups and covering more area than the year before, the COVID-19 pandemic led to an almost 63% decrease in the number of overall items collected during cleanups.

One lesson that the past year has taught us is that direct citizen actions cannot be the end-all solution to plastic pollution. As demonstrated, events can and do happen that are beyond our control that drastically reduce the ability of people to remove trash from our environment. But this does not result in less trash flowing onto our beaches, in our waterways and out into the ocean. This year’s dataset showed an average of 58.98 items collected per person, compared to 14.97 in last year’s dataset. This means that despite having fewer volunteers collecting less items in total, each volunteer collected nearly four times more items than the previous year.

Read the full article about beach cleanups by Jennifer Hart at Surfrider Foundation.