Major

Biology

Anticipated Graduation Year

2021

Access Type

Open Access

Abstract

Anthropogenic litter (i.e., trash; AL) is accumulating in ecosystems worldwide with negative ecological and economic impacts. On beaches, cigarette debris and plastic litter (e.g., bags, bottles, straws) are a primary component of AL. Both categories are also subject to prevention and policy strategies to reduce their use. Thus, we expect that over long time scales (i.e., > 10 years), AL on beaches from cigarette butts and plastic bags may be declining. We analyzed data collected by the long-running Adopt-A-Beach Program (administered by the Alliance for the Great Lakes), where volunteers record litter collected during clean ups. We compared the total AL, as well as proportion of cigarette butts and plastic bags, collected on beaches in Sleeping Bear Dunes and Chicago over 20 years. Results show more litter on Chicago beaches, but in both places, the AL assemblage shows a decline in cigarette butts. Plastic bags make up a lower proportion of litter, and do not show a clear temporal trend. We conclude that public policy and education on cigarette butts has reduced its litter on Lake Michigan beaches, but plastic bag policies (which are more recent) do not yet have a demonstrable influence on their abundance as litter.

Faculty Mentors & Instructors

Timothy Hoellein, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Biology

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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Temporal trends in the abundance of litter on Lake Michigan beaches using datasets generated by volunteer clean-up events over 20 years

Anthropogenic litter (i.e., trash; AL) is accumulating in ecosystems worldwide with negative ecological and economic impacts. On beaches, cigarette debris and plastic litter (e.g., bags, bottles, straws) are a primary component of AL. Both categories are also subject to prevention and policy strategies to reduce their use. Thus, we expect that over long time scales (i.e., > 10 years), AL on beaches from cigarette butts and plastic bags may be declining. We analyzed data collected by the long-running Adopt-A-Beach Program (administered by the Alliance for the Great Lakes), where volunteers record litter collected during clean ups. We compared the total AL, as well as proportion of cigarette butts and plastic bags, collected on beaches in Sleeping Bear Dunes and Chicago over 20 years. Results show more litter on Chicago beaches, but in both places, the AL assemblage shows a decline in cigarette butts. Plastic bags make up a lower proportion of litter, and do not show a clear temporal trend. We conclude that public policy and education on cigarette butts has reduced its litter on Lake Michigan beaches, but plastic bag policies (which are more recent) do not yet have a demonstrable influence on their abundance as litter.