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Plastic is big these days in trash along beaches


WASHINGTON -- Thousands of cigarette butts, glass bottles and plastic pieces were scooped up by volunteers who cleared 83 miles of Maryland beaches and river banks in September.

Last summer's revelers left behind 201,000 pounds of litter -- enough to fill 699 trash bags.

Nearly one-third of Maryland's trash consisted of various types of plastic, according to a report released Thursday by the Washington-based Center for Marine Conservation, which described refuse cleaned from beaches in 35 states and 12 countries.

In Maryland, volunteers working for the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the Committee to Preserve Assateague Island Inc. picked up the debris on Sept. 7, 14 and 21.

The more than 1,100 participants ranged from high school students to senior citizens.

"Plastics still lead the list in total number of items collected," reported Judy Johnson of the Assateague committee. For example, the Maryland trash included 5,856 foam plastic pieces, 2,881 plastic caps and lids, and 1,968 plastic straws.

Smokers on the beaches discarded 6,114 cigarette butts, making up 8.97 percent of the litter.

Much larger items included an abandoned boat, a portable toilet, bicycles, and 23 tires.

The volunteers found a few stranded wildlife, including a crab entangled in balloon shreds and fish trapped in a crab trap. Six dead fish, a dead turtle, a dead bird and one dead mouse were found washed ashore.

On Assateague Island, volunteers amassed a total of three tons of debris, two of which were lumber. Other litter included a freezer door, a boomerang, a pillow, a coffee strainer, and a Ninja Turtle figure.

In Baltimore, volunteers found a wooden park bench, a bicycle, and a sofa cushion. The Annapolis volunteers found Walkman headphones, underwear, a toothbrush and a grill.

The event was made possible by $85,000 in congressional funding secured by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, to assist beach cleanups in the state.

"We couldn't have done it without the funding," said Ann Berger of the Alliance, who coordinated the cleanup event. "So far we haven't gotten anything this year."

A spokesman for Ms. Mikulski said he was unsure about any appropriation for this year's cleanup.

"People have already been calling us to ask if they can pitch in," said Francis Flanigan, executive director of the Alliance. "But we have no money, so whether we can do this again remains a big question."

Ms. Flanigan said the event draws attention to a serious problem of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. "If we don't learn to correct these behaviors, then we are not going to have a bay we can be proud of," she said. "The blame belongs to all of us."

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