Aquatic Litter and Debris—Types
Every year, volunteers across the world participate in the International Coastal Cleanup, picking up aquatic debris and collecting data about the quantity and types of litter they find. The "top ten" list from these cleanups gives us a tremendous amount of information about the behaviors and activities that contribute most to the aquatic debris problem. The Top Ten items vary little year-to-year.

Top 10 Debris Items Worldwide (2007 International Coastal Cleanup)

  Number Percent
1. Cigarettes/cigarette filters


27.2 %

2. Food wrappers and containers


9.6 %
3. Caps/lids


9.1 %
4. Bags


8.1 %
5. Beverage bottles (plastic)


6.8 %
6. Cups/plates/forks/knives/spoons


5.2 %
7. Beverage bottles (glass)


4.8 %
8 Cigar tips


4.5 %
9. Straws/stirrers


4.5 %
10. Beverage cans


4.3 %

Total Top 10 Debris Items Worldwide


Total Debris Worldwide


Classifying Litter

Any trash that is improperly disposed of can potentially enter a waterway and have negative impacts on aquatic animals, plants, and humans. Aquatic debris can be categorized in several ways:
• By material (plastic, metal, glass, cloth, paper)
• By source or by the activity which leads the trash to be in the water. Some activities include fast-food consumption, smoking, fishing, illegal dumping, sports/games, balloons used in advertising, etc.
• By impact the items have on the environment (for example, some debris items can be deadly to animals, while others are not)
• By biodegradable / nondegradable (Much of our solid waste contains synthetic materials that do not degrade quickly, if at all.)
• By recyclable / non-recyclable

About Litter and Debris:

  Litter and Debris in our Waterways - Impacts, Sources and Solutions Page   What Volunteers Found in Virginia's Waterways--Data from past International Coastal Cleanups
  Litter Prevention Page   How Data from the ICC are used
  Impacts of aquatic debris   The International Coastal Cleanup in Virginia
  Article about Aquatic Litter and Debris (written by CVW for school teachers and others)   Solutions
  Cigarette Butt Litter—A Special Problem   Balloons as litter—A Special Problem

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Compiled by Clean Virginia Waterways, Longwood University, Farmville, VA 23909
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