Today, April 22, is Earth Day and people around the world are cleaning up the planet. Of course, that includes our oceans which cover 70% of our world.

For the first time, food wrappers passed cigarette butts as the most common trash found in our oceans and beaches.

That was the result of last year’s International Coastal Cleanup Day started in in 1986 by the Ocean Conservancy.  Since then, millions of volunteers have collected and categorized over 300 million pounds of trash from beaches and waters worldwide.

So what’s trashing our oceans?

In 2019, over 940,000 volunteers in 116 countries collected nearly 32.5 million pieces of trash.

Topping the list was 4.7 million food wrappers for things like candy, cookies and chips. They also picked up 4.2 million cigarette butts, 1.8 million plastic bottles, 1.5 million plastic bottle caps, and more than 940,000 straws and drink stirrers.

They also found enough fishing line to fish from 55 miles above the ocean surface.

The Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program showed that over 35 years, the cleanup has revealed the switch to single-use plastics and its detrimental impact on ocean pollution. Before that, glass bottles, metal caps, and paper bags were most prevalent in the list of top collected items.

By 2017, the entire top 10 list included all plastic items and it has remained that way ever since. Cigarette butts count as plastic trash because the filters are made of plastic fibers. Even common tea bags contain plastics and release billions of nano-particles into the environment and your tea cup!

Last year the Philippines led all countries for participation in the ocean clean up, followed by the US, Hong Kong, Ecuador, Canada and Mexico.

In the U.S., California by far had the most volunteers at nearly 71,000, Florida at nearly 80,000 and Texas at over 27,000. Alaska was not on the list for participants.

A recent Consumer Action survey revealed that 73 percent of respondents consider helping the environment an important factor in what they buy. There also was significant consumer appeal for shifting purchasing to foods sold in non-plastic containers, such as metal, cans and glass.