“We saw over 81 percent of the debris that we collected was plastic, including foam, which is down a little bit from last year,” Alison McCarthy, the coastal watershed protection coordinator for Clean Ocean Action, said April 2 at a beachside press conference at Sandy Hook. “But it’s still astoundingly high and makes up a very large majority of the data.” Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, spoke about the impact plastics have on marine wildlife. In one high-profile example, a whale found dead last month in Italy had about 50 pounds of plastic in its belly. Clean Ocean Action has been organizing beach sweeps since 1985. In that time, 6.7 million pieces of debris have been collected by 133,390 volunteers, McCarthy said. This year’s spring Beach Sweeps will be April 13, at sites from north Jersey to Cape May. Among some of the more unusual items found were a 1930s Philadelphia rail token, a rattrap, a full couch, dentures and a vacuum cleaner. In 2018, 454,365 pieces of debris were collected by 10,148 volunteers at 60 sites around the state, mostly along the Jersey Shore, during the organization’s 33rd annual “Beach Sweeps” of coastline and other areas. Those were record amounts, in material collected and volunteers who participated, in the history of the cleanups. “So there’s somewhere for everybody to join in and get out onto the beaches and give the beaches a good clean sweep,” Zipf said. “We’re not going out on the beaches to give them a clean sweep just because it makes the beaches look good and it makes them safer for marine life. We want to stop these sources of litter, and we want to stop them…at the source.” Once again, the organization is calling for a ban on plastic bags and enforcement of litter laws. Zipf also said wind is a“major source” of litter; trashcans get blown over on awindy day and waste getsblown around. She urgedpeople to make sure theyhave a sealed trash container. The Monmouth County-based environmental group Clean Ocean Action said it recovered everything from balloons to furniture when it cleaned up coastal New Jersey last year. “So the really common items that we’re seeing out on the beaches are plastic and many of them are single-use plastics,” McCarthy said. By Philip Sean Curran “So, pretty fascinatingstuff that we find out on theJersey Shore,” McCarthysaid. “All this plastic debris that we find is absolutely our responsibility,” Zipf said. “We can’t blame Mother Nature for any of this. This is all us being sloppy and not taking care of the products that we use.” “So they’ll find their way into a stream, into a bigger river, and those rivers, of course, all water ways lead to the ocean,” she said. “So that’s how all of that debris gets out into the ocean eventually and then washes up onto the shore.” McCarthy explained thejourney debris takes once itgoes down a storm drain andthen into a waterway. She also pointed to the prevalence of balloons, with a record-setting 5,470 of them collected – a 32 percent increase from 2017. The organization this week issued its annual report highlighting what was found during the cleanups, held in April and October. Topping its “dirty dozen” list of the “most commonly” found objects were plastic pieces, at 75,899, followed by plastic caps and lids at 61,358. Both occupied the top two spots in 2017 and in 2016, the report said. The organization has said its data has been used by government officials to protect the environment. In particular, the group pointed to Gov. Phil Murphy last year signing into law a ban on smoking at all public parks and beaches,effective in 2019. Zipf saidLittle Silver had just bannedplastic bags, straws and foamcontainers town-wide. Zipf said she supports aplastic bag ban, a step NewYork state will take in 2020.