We pour a lot of plastic into the world’s oceans—directly and through the myriad waterways that spill into the seas. A pioneering study published in Science in February estimated that, in 2010 alone, we dumped nearly 9 million tons of plastic into the deep—so much that if we were to spread it out along the shores, we could cover every foot of the planet’s coastlines with five full grocery bags of the stuff.
Study co-author, Kara Lavender Law, an oceanographer at the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, says that, to curb the problem, we must invest in waste management infrastructure, especially in countries with rapidly developing economies. She adds that "in high-income countries, we also have a responsibility to reduce the amount of waste, especially plastic waste, that we produce.”
In the meantime, we need to gather up what we do produce so it doesn’t end up flowing downstream and into the ocean. To that end, on April 25, AWI staff members joined EarthShare and others from the DC Metro area, for the Anacostia Watershed Society’s annual Earth Day Cleanup and Celebration. The Anacostia watershed—which encompasses most of the eastern half of Washington and portions of Maryland—is home to more than 230 different animal species, including turtles, otters, red fox, and a multitude of birds and fish. Last year, over 2,000 volunteers, including AWI staff, collected 44 tons of trash and recyclable items from the river and adjacent neighborhoods, parks, and streams.