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The New Year is a time to look ahead with hope and expectation. It’s a time to take stock, plan for the future, and move forward. So in the spirit of New Beginnings, we would like to share some interesting facts about ocean pollution and positive steps we can all take right now.

Ocean pollution is a term that frequently brings to mind images of straws, bottles and other plastic items. But, wait. Guess what the ocean’s single most prevalent source of trash is? Yes, you guessed it: cigarette butts! And although these little scoundrels may seem small and unimportant, they can cause irreversible damage to our water and wildlife.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin

Ocean Conservancy has been doing beach clean-ups since the 1980’s and here is their list of the 10 most common categories of trash that litter our oceans:

  1. Cigarette butts — upwards of 60 million.
  2. Food wrappers — 1,140,222 were found in an International Coastal Cleanup covering a distance of nearly 18,000 miles.
  3. Plastic beverage bottles — approximately 20,000 plastic bottles are bought world-wide every second. The MacArthur Foundation predicts that, by 2050, the amount of plastic in our oceans will outnumber fish.
  4. Single use plastic bags — over 1,000,000 have been found in Coastal Cleanups. Sea animals are regularly found tangled up in them and some have been choked to death from swallowing them.
  5. Bottle caps and lids — 958,893 caps and lids have been collected in coastal cleanups. Many are small enough to be ingested by sea animals and birds, and cause severe pain and death when lodged in an animal’s gut.
  6. Plastic cups, plates and cutlery — hundreds of thousands of these items have been collected. Fragments can become lethally sharp and they are not biodegradable. These scraps will remain an environmental hazard for hundreds of years.
  7. Straws and stirrers — hundreds of thousands found in coastal clean-ups.  
  8. Glass beverage bottles — found lining our ocean floors, often with broken edges that can injure fish and other sea animals.
  9. Beverage cans — also found lining our ocean floors and posing the same threat due to sharp edges.
  10. Paper bags — what most people don’t realize is that paper bags have a larger carbon foot print than plastic bags.

So what can we all do in the coming year to clean up our act and help save our planet?

Here are just a few, simple suggestions.

Get involved with your state government by advocating and voting for bills that mitigate waste. Then tell your friends, your co-workers and your families to get them in on the action. Here in Maine, Sidewalk Buttler is collaborating with The Natural Resource Council of Maine to help pass a bill that would make tobacco companies have endpoint responsibility for cigarette butt litter. We have spoken at the Maine State Capitol building in Augusta, in front of legislators, for the past two years and are planning to do so again this year. But this really should be a nationwide initiative like it already is in California and Maine. If you can be a pioneer in your own home state by bringing this type of legislation to your state government, we'd love to help. Please feel free to contact us for more information on how to start the ball rolling.

Photo by Sera Cocora

Check out TerraCycle, whose mission is To Eliminate the Idea of Waste®. Discover their Zero Waste Boxes and you'll see how individuals, groups, and large and small companies can literally recycle everything. Their unique recycling program allows you to purchase a box and fill it up with hard to recycle items such as disposable gloves, fabrics, plastic cutlery, alkaline batteries, or many other “hard to recycle” items that would normally have to be thrown in the trash. Collect the trash, download a shipping label and UPS will come pick up the box. What's more, TerraCycle takes these plastics and recycles them into all kinds of useful things. Earn points and they will even make charitable donations in your name. This cutting-edge company offers every one of us the opportunity to recycle everything.

Make a commitment to acquire new, environment-friendly habits, even if it’s one little change at a time. In Portland, Maine, where Sidewalk Buttler is located, consumers are charged for bags if they don’t bring their own reusable bag. But let’s be honest, there is nothing easier than keeping reusable bags in the car. And the mantra “save a tree” has never been easier — or more important!

Purchase a reusable bottle for beverage consumption. There are so many affordable types of bottles available today that it should be a cinch to find the one that will fit your day-to-day needs. You’ll save money and keep those single use plastic bottles out of the environment.

Photo by Catherine Sheila

Little changes can make a big difference. You can become the hero of your own recycling story. Drop us a line here at Sidewalk Buttler with some of your own suggestions, and we’ll pass them along in future blogs.

For now, let's all pledge ourselves to creating a cleaner, greener environment in this brand new year of a new decade!

All the best to you and yours,

Nan and Mike

Additional organizations to check out:

Surfrider Foundation

Balloons Blow

Blue Frontier Campaign

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