Woman leaning over picking up trash on beach (© Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. Embassy staff members and their families clean the beach of Grand-Bassam, Côte d’Ivoire, on September 17, 2016. The operation was organized by the U.S. Embassy in Abidjan as part of International Coastal Cleanup Day. (© Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images)

Around the world on International Coastal Cleanup Day, September 17, people will flock to beaches to clean up their countries’ coastlines.

“For more than 35 years, 17 million volunteers have joined the International Coastal Cleanup to collect more than 350 million pounds [about 160 million kilograms] of plastic and debris, all the while recording what they find and helping inform research and legislation across the world,” says the Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit organization that helps develop ocean policy around the world.

Cities across five continents will be joining together to find nearby beaches to clean of plastic and debris.

People with bags picking up trash on a beach (© Erika Santelices/AFP/Getty Images)
Volunteers collect garbage on the shore of the Fuerte San Gil beach in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic, on September 19, 2020, for International Coastal Cleanup Day. (© Erika Santelices/AFP/Getty Images)

The world produces about 272 million metric tons of plastic waste each year. More than 8 million metric tons of that waste makes its way into the ocean annually and washes up on beaches around the world.

That much waste makes volunteer beach cleaners essential.

The Ocean Conservancy offers tips for organizing and safely executing a trash pickup, including:

  • Using protective gear to clean up trash.
  • Logging the trash through the Clean Swell app and taking photos.
  • Properly disposing of waste.
  • Sanitizing hands and tools after cleaning up.

Cleaning up the coasts year-round

Civilians aren’t interested in beaches only one day per year — there are scores of year-round cleanup efforts.

Low angle photo of people holding bags filled with trash they collected (© Bernd Wüstneck/dpa/picture alliance/Getty Images)
Participants in a waste-collection campaign September 18, 2018, at the Baltic Sea beach in Western Pomerania, Kühlungsborn, Germany, show their filled waste bags. (© Bernd Wüstneck/dpa/picture alliance/Getty Images)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funds some efforts, including:

“The ocean is our lifeblood, impacting a $500 billion global economy and the livelihoods of 1 out of every 10 people in the world,” Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry said in April. “Millions of citizens around the world depend on the ocean for their protein and livelihoods, realizing the ocean is a delicate ecosystem that must be protected.”