A bag of heroin, a 10-gallon gas tank, five pairs of underwear, a duck caller and a plastic cow were among the nearly half-million pieces of trash picked up from New Jersey's beaches by volunteers last year. It may appear that everything but the kitchen sink turned up. But that's wrong: There was one of those, too.
Clean Ocean Action, the environmental group that has been doing beach sweeps for 25 years, says in a report to be released Tuesday that an all-time high of 475,321 pieces of litter were removed from the state's 127-mile shoreline last year. The 8,372 people who participated in spring and fall cleanups also set a record.
Plastics accounted for nearly three-quarters of the debris plucked from the beaches, with plastic caps or lids topping the list at 61,895. Miscellaneous bits and pieces of plastic were next at 51,249 items, followed by cigarette filters (an all-time high of 45,903), food wrappers or bags (43,113), straws or coffee stirrers (39,029), foam pieces (22,099), and bottles (18,212). Wood and lumber accounted for 10,384 items, followed closely by cigar tips (10,328) and shopping bags (8,619).
The report may also give new impetus to efforts to ban or phase out the use of plastic bags at grocery stores. The number of plastic bags collected more than quadrupled from 2,793 in 1993 to 12,873 in 2009. Plastic caps and lids also soared from 6,947 in 1993 to 33,551 in 2009. There were 8,611 pieces of paper found last year, and 7,723 pieces of glass.
But it is the report's "Roster of the Ridiculous" that gets the most attention each year, a list of wacky or downright yucky items mixed in among the plastics. For 2010 they included the gas tank (which, with gasoline at nearly $4 a gallon appears nearly unfathomable to throw away nowadays), a thumbnail-sized bag of heroin (which is probably worth less than the gasoline), plastic fingernails, a Home Depot apron, a scooter, human-shaped candles, a ballet slipper, an unopened Census form (take THAT, Uncle Sam!), a beer keg, a can of corned beef and a bottle of syrup (to go with the corned beef, no doubt).
There also were four televisions, a plastic Easter egg with $3 in cash inside it, a fire extinguisher, a toilet seat lid, an MP3 player, a Japanese war figure and many other items.
The report also shows, in raw statistical numbers, what slobs beachgoers can be. Despite the fact that virtually all New Jersey's public beaches have numerous trash cans on the sand, some people can't be bothered to use them. For instance, cleanup volunteers found 601 empty bottles of sun tan lotion, 1,970 discarded cigarette lighters, 6,159 cups and (shudder) 162 discarded diapers.
Want to get more personal? There were 347 syringes, 5,932 tampon applicators and 485 condoms, although some of these items may have been the result of sewer system overflows that washed up on beaches rather than items deliberately left behind by beachgoers.
There also were 120 egg cartons. (Egg cartons? Really? Who brings egg cartons to the beach?) But then again, who brings car batteries to the beach? There were 52 of those.
Blankets and towels? There were 444 of those left behind, along with 1,108 shoes or sandals. Shotgun shells accounted for 1,673 items, glow-in-the-dark light sticks, like the kinds kids buy while watching fireworks on the beach totaled 2,175, and there were 513 motor oil bottles. Also found were 84 whole tires, and 342 pieces of tires, 1370 aerosol cans, 597 fishing lures and 1,305 strands of fishing line, which is particularly lethal to marine creatures like turtles, seals and dolphins that can get entangled in it.