(WASHINGTON) -- These days, there are a lot of butts in the ocean. The kind you smoke, that is.
New numbers out Tuesday from environmental advocates at the Ocean Conservancy show that cigarette butts are at the top of the global trash heap, outnumbering plastic bottles, bags and cans littering the world’s shorelines and waterways. The group estimates that if all the butts that have been picked up by volunteers over the last 26 years were stacked up, they would be as tall as 3,613 Empire State Buildings.
“The ocean is downstream from all of us,” says Nicholas Mallos, a conservation biologist and marine debris specialist with the Ocean Conservancy. “All of our actions regarding trash have the potential to impact the oceans.”
The Ocean Conservancy numbers come from an annual effort called the International Coastal Cleanup. It began in Texas in 1986 and by last year had grown to include 600,000 volunteers in 96 countries. The cleanup is sponsored by government agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and private companies like Coca Cola and The Walt Disney Company, the parent of ABC News.
In 2011, the Ocean Conservancy says volunteers picked up:
-- 266,997 pieces of clothing, enough to dress every member of the audience at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Summer Olympics.
-- Enough cans and bottles to fetch $45,489.15 if recycled.
-- 940,277 food containers, enough to get takeout for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next 858 years.
Among the more unusual finds: 195 cell phones, 155 toilet seats, and nearly 10,000 fireworks. The top ten trash items can be found here.
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