Year in Review: Combating Plastic Pollution | South Carolina Aquarium

Year in Review: Combating Plastic Pollution

Dec 09

Year in Review: Combating Plastic Pollution

2021 was another year filled with pandemic pivots, even in the world of conservation. As changes in how we shopped, dined and gathered together for work and play evolved as the months went by, conservation efforts continued to play a critical role in the work beyond our walls.

We travelled into 10 counties and 12 municipalities to conduct monthly litter sweeps through Sweeps Across South Carolina, an initiative with the SC Floodwater Commission and SC7 Expedition, to raise awareness about the connection between litter and flooding. Close to 200 participants representing dozens of environmental partners and the public joined us from the Upstate, Midlands, and coastal regions to remove pollution in their local communities.

We also welcomed over 100 new users to the Litter-Free Digital Journal, a project in the South Carolina Aquarium Citizen Science app. This year alone, members collected and documented an average of 41,470 pieces of debris each month. As we near the end of the year, we have endless gratitude to the 1,700+ users who have helped document and remove more than 1.6 million pieces of debris from our waterways and open spaces. Thank you!

So, what did the trends tell us this year in the world of plastic pollution? On average, plastic makes up 74% of all South Carolina litter logged in the Litter-Free Digital Journal, a trend consistent with the past four years of data. Single-use plastic accounted for almost half (48%) of plastic logged. Single-use plastic associated with carryout dining (straws, retail bags, Styrofoam, utensils, cups and to-go boxes) noticeably increased in the litter data, especially during 2020. Comparison of pre-pandemic litter data (January 1, 2018 – March 17, 2020) with pandemic litter data (March 18, 2020 – November 29, 2021) shows a change from 13% to 21% (60% increase) in carryout dining litter statewide on our roadways and natural areas.

It’s safe to say the pandemic plays a critical role in what litter we’re finding across the state. These current trends can serve as a guide to recommit to changes we can make in our daily lives. We can carry reusable drink bottles and bags, request “no utensils or straws” when we order carryout and ask if the restaurant has something other than Styrofoam containers. There may not always be an alternative available, but we can continue to work toward solutions by engaging in conversations within our communities.

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