Twenty-five years after the first "beach sweep" along the Jersey Shore, the twice a year volunteer clean-up is bigger than ever.
And apparently it needs to be.
"It's an embarrassment," said beach-lover Tom Puente, 58 of Vernon, N.J. about all of the trash that was lying on one of Sandy Hook's wide beaches.
"It's ungodly, it's wrong, there's no reason for it. You have places you bring your own trash at home, why would you leave it here?" he added.
Sandy Hook-based Clean Ocean Action sponsors the Spring and Fall beach sweeps, and some of the items volunteers have found over the years defy believability.
In addition to the soiled pair of women's underwear found last year, condoms (known locally as "Coney Island Whitefish") and tampon applicators by the thousands were picked up. There were hundreds of shotgun shells, scores of diapers and even a working iPhone.
But the number one item found on beaches from Sandy Hook to Cape May was plastic caps and lids, with 33,551 of them. That's just over 11 percent of the total of the 301,564 pieces of trash that were picked up last year (cigarette filters were a close number two, by the way, after holding the top spot in previous years.)
"It's very depressing to come back to the beach after we've done a good job over the last year cleaning the beaches," said Clean Ocean Action's founder, Cindy Zipf, referring to this spring's deposits.
But she said the trash is coming not just from slobs on the beach.
According to Zipf, much of the plastic comes from people littering inland. Rainstorms carry that trash into storm drains, many of which either overflow into New York Harbor, or go straight into the harbor, and then out to sea.
And while some of that ends up on the beaches of New Jersey and Long Island, new research suggests much of it ends up in a newly discovered North Atlantic garbage patch, scientifically known as a gyre.
Approximately in the same area as the Sargasso Sea, circular ocean currents trap floating plastics in a huge soup-like mix that scientists say take centuries for many of the items to biodegrade.
In the meantime, as the pieces get smaller and smaller, marine life can easily ingest some of them.
"It kills the fish," predicted Cassandra Thornton, 9, of Allendale, N.J. She added that fish "can't eat that stuff because it's made out of plastic and they'll die."
Clean Ocean Action's report noted "ingested items can block or damage the digestive system leading to infection or starvation."
The group's next Beach Sweep is scheduled for Saturday morning, April 24th.