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Trash to data: Ocean cleanup uses research to change policies

This isn't just any beach cleanup; data from it is used in research to influence government and industry policies.

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla — This Saturday, you can be part of one of the world's largest ocean cleanups, joining hundreds of thousands of people to help preserve our planet.

It's the International Coastal Cleanup, happening at about two dozen locations in Jacksonville. This isn't just any beach cleanup; data from it is used in research to influence government and industry policies.

Every piece of trash picked up is also a piece of data recorded by the Ocean Conservancy, which puts on the international cleanup. They state people need to ban or avoid plastic products that aren't needed, governments must help with this, and that there must be pressure put on the plastic industry to be more sustainable.

The Ocean Conservancy data finds socioeconomics and geography play a role in where plastic pollution hotspots are. They find wealthier places are hot spots for fishing gear and cigarette butts. 

The data from the cleanup also goes to the city of Jacksonville. In Jacksonville last year, more than 600 people collected over four tons of debris.

"It brings attention to the fact that if we can walk down the beach and you can pick up a pound of plastic, that we're not there yet," said Kevin Brown with Beaches Sea Turtle Patrol.

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Brown says this is part of why there are receptacles at beach access points. Katie Blandford, chair of the Keep Jacksonville Beautiful Commission, says it's also why you see cigarette receptacles in the city.

"Awareness of things like cigarette butts," Blandford said. "Most people don't understand that that's actually plastic, and so they don't decompose into the area and actually slowly leeches toxins into that area."

Blandford says these cleanups and research are needed to make impactful changes.

"We know plastic straws now are such a horrible thing for the environment and the sea turtles and stuff, but all that comes from awareness and data that's brought in from things like cleanups."

You don't have to register for the cleanups. There will be trash bags and gloves available at meeting points.

The cleanups at the beach go from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. but most of the cleanups in parks and around the county go from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

See the full list of cleanup locations here.

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