How Are The Data Used?

Collecting data from the volunteers is just part of the process. The next step is to use the data to combat sources of litter. Clean Virginia Waterways does this in several ways:

Sharing the data

Virginia's aquatic litter data are shared with many interested organizations and groups, including the U.S. Coast Guard. The USCG is responsible for enforcing the international protocol known as MARPOL (The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships is commonly referred to as MARPOL [Marine Pollution]). MARPOL prohibits dumping at sea. Data such as ours help the Coast Guard analyze how well the boating community is upholding the MARPOL agreement by not throwing their solid waste into the oceans. One USCG program "Sea Partners," (which educates boaters on the laws concerning handling solid waste at sea) reviews our data, and focuses its efforts in areas where more education is needed. The National Park Service also has used our data to identify areas in their Virginia parks that require special efforts. For example, our volunteers located a tributary to the Potomac River that had been a dumping area for tires for years. Since this was in a National Park Service park, we worked with them to get the volunteers, equipment and trucks needed to remove the tires. So far, two tire-removing events have been held there. The NPS also worked with local law enforcement officials in northern Virginia to ticket people who littered a popular fishing area on the Potomac River. Our data was part of the evidence used to justify the ticketing. Data are also shared with anyone interested. Site Captains and reporters often call to learn the major litter problems in their area.

After volunteers in Virginia fill out the data cards, they are collected by Site Captains, and sent to Clean Virginia Waterways. CVW looks them over for the "big picture," then we organize them by county, bundle them up and send them to The Ocean Conservancy. The Ocean Conservancy's staff enters all the data into a computer, and produces reports showing the data by state, by country, and worldwide. The Ocean Conservancy looks for trends, and then shares the data with the press, with the US Coast Guard, and other governmental and nongovernmental agencies.

Balloons—CVW writes letters to companies when we find their name on balloons. Balloons are hazards when they enter the aquatic environment because they can look a great deal like jellyfish—a major source of food for many animals. Also, their ribbons have been known to entangle animals. We encourage companies to consider an alternative form of advertising, or make sure that their helium-filled balloons are not released. We also inform them that mass-releases of balloons are illegal in Virginia. Learn more about balloons as litter.

Cigarette butts—Cigarette butts are usually our #1 source of litter in Virginia. According to data collected during the International Coastal Cleanup, cigarette butts are the #1 source of litter in the US and globally. Cigarette filters are made of plastic (cellulose acetate) and are not biodegradable as many people think. Clean Virginia Waterways has done the following about this source of plastic litter:

• CVW conducted experiments regarding the toxic properties of cigarette butts. An article summarizing the research can be found in the August 2000 issue of the "Underwater Naturalist" published by the American Littoral Society. Click here to read the full article.
• A project has been developed to educate smokers and nonsmokers that cigarette butts 1) are plastic and non-biodegradable, 2) contain chemicals that are toxic to small aquatic animals and 3) should not be littered.
• CVW created a "Cigarette Butt Litter" web site in early 2000.
• A "Cigarette Butt Litter" presentation was created by CVW, and has been shown to more than 500 people, including attendees of the Keep America Beautiful national convention in 2002.
• CVW has had extensive discussions with The Ocean Conservancy, Keep America Beautiful, Philip Morris, USA, and others to develop strategies to reduce this form of litter through educational campaigns and tobacco industry involvement.

NOTE: In all these attempts to educate the public about cigarette butts, the focus is always that this is a litter issue, NOT a smoking issue. In fact, CVW works closely with tobacco companies to educate smokers.

Six-pack rings - While our volunteers don't usually find too many six-pack rings, we all know that their impact on wildlife can be great. Clean Virginia Waterways has been working with Hi-Cone (the largest manufacturer of the rings in the US) to increase recycling of their project. Hi-Cone will supply (free) to any school teacher a recycling kit that includes an educational video, a "tree" on which school children can place six-pack rings for recycling, and other educational material. Clean Virginia Waterways has shown the kit to hundreds of teachers and future teachers as part of educational seminars and presentations. Learn more:

By using the data collected by volunteers, Clean Virginia Waterways can address some of the sources of litter and debris in our rivers and on our beaches.

Volunteers love to show the results of their hard work! Thanks to these Virginians, a riverside park is cleaner and safer.
Litter Prevention Page   Litter and Debris in our Waterways - Impacts and Data Page
Impacts of aquatic debris   Solutions
How Data from the ICC are used   The International Coastal Cleanup in Virginia


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