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Plastic Outnumbers Cigarette Butts on Narragansett Bay Shores

Pieces of plastic outnumbered cigarette butts on Narragansett Bay shores in the 2023 International Coastal Cleanup. Photo SAVE THE BAY

A new report released by the environmental group Save The Bay reveals that volunteers participating in the annual International Coastal Cleanup program recorded more small plastic and foam pieces than cigarette butts along the shores of Narragansett Bay for the first time in the program’s 35-year history.

In 2023, 2,830 local volunteers collected 23,468 plastic and foam pieces and 21,165 cigarette butts.


A press release issued by Save The Bay reads: “In historical terms, plastic litter is relatively new to the shores of Narragansett Bay—notes from Save The Bay’s earliest 1970s cleanups barely mention it. But today, plastic is everywhere and, plastic never really goes away. Instead, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, eventually becoming ‘microplastics’ that contaminate waterbodies.”

To account for the growing epidemic of plastic pollution, the Ocean Conservancy added a new category of reporting to its International Coastal Cleanup data cards in 2013: “tiny trash,” the category that is now the frontrunner of collected litter in Rhode Island. The change represents a sea change in the plastic debris problem for Narragansett Bay and beyond.

“Our team has found microplastics in every part of the Bay, and we find them every time we look for them,” said Save The Bay Executive Director Topher Hamblett. “The best thing we can do to stop the plastics problem is to prevent plastic from ever entering our waters—whether you make sure to dispose of your trash properly, volunteer at a shoreline cleanup, or support changes in local policy, like telling your legislators to pass a bottle bill.” 

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