Tomorrow, September 16, is International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) Day. On this day, people all over the world will go to beaches and waterways to remove trash. Here in the Philippines, ICC was institutionalized through Proclamation No. 470, series of 2003 of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The third Saturday of September was designated as Philippine ICC Day.

The ICC began more than 35 years ago. It was founded by Linda Maraniss and Kathy O’Hara, both of whom worked at the Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., United States. Since its beginning, more than 17 million volunteers have collected more than 350 million pounds of trash.

In the 2022 ICC, there were 469,482 volunteers who collected a total of 15, 519, 392 pieces of trash weighing around 3,700 tons. The United States has the biggest number of participants numbering 151,606 followed by the Philippines with 53,000 volunteers.

Cigarette butts top the list of the biggest volume of trash recovered. According to Ocean Conservancy, improperly discarded cigarette butts are considered plastic pollution due to the synthetic cellulose acetate (plastic) filters they contain. Each individual cigarette butt can degrade into thousands of microplastic fibers in the environment. They represent a common but preventable form of plastic pollution worldwide and have frequently been identified as the top item collected annually during the ICC.

Other top items retrieved during the ICC in 2022 are plastic beverage bottles, food wrappers (candy, chips, etc.), plastic bottle caps, plastic grocery bags, other plastic bags, foam food containers, plastic food containers, paper cups and plates and plastic straws/stirrers.

In the Philippines candy wrappers topped the list of items collected, followed by plastic grocery bags, other plastic bags, plastic bottles, paper cups and plates, plastic bottle caps, cigarette butts, foam food containers, plastic straw/stirrer and plastic food containers.

Cleaning up the beaches wasn’t the only aim of the ICC. Another important goal was to document and study the type of trash collected during the cleanup. Documentation included studying the trash’s material, where it could have come from, how long it would take to disintegrate, and what impact it would have on the ocean and the species living in it. Once everything is identified and documented thoroughly, the governments are informed about the findings.

Scientists, policymakers, journalists, and countless others have used the ICC dataset to better understand and help tackle the global plastic pollution problem. Now, Ocean Conservancy is taking ICC data to a new level of impact. This year, Ocean Conservancy is releasing a report entitled “Charting a Course to Plastic Free Beaches” which uses nearly 40 years of global ICC data to target 10 single-use plastic items most commonly found polluting shorelines around the world.

Join a coastal or river cleanup near you if there is one. A better thing to do is avoid throwing trash in canals and rivers or anywhere for that matter.