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Volunteer beach cleanups: civic environmental stewardship combating global plastic pollution

Abstract

Marine litter, the majority of which is plastic, is one of the most pressing global environmental challenges impacting the planet. One way coastal communities respond to this challenge is through the environmental stewardship practice of volunteer beach cleanups. Beyond providing temporarily cleaner local beaches, how might these beach cleanups have broader impacts in the global struggle against plastic pollution? Using the lenses of environmental stewardship and civic ecology, we conducted a content analysis of primary source materials created by 50 groups involved in volunteer beach cleanups. We collected data on the scale at which groups coordinate volunteer beach cleanups, the roles they play in conducting these cleanups, how they interact with other volunteer beach cleanup groups, and the other forms of stewardship they conduct, if any. Within our sample, we identified groups coordinating volunteer beach cleanups at five geographic scales: local, sub-national, national, multi-national, and global. Within the groups operating at each scale, we found groups conducting environmental stewardship in the forms of education, advocacy, research, and monitoring in addition to their conservation work through beach cleanups. Our findings demonstrate that groups branch out their impacts by combining different forms of environmental stewardship targeting plastic pollution, and they collaborate to scale up their actions in ways that contribute to plastic pollution governance. Connecting these findings with the literature on the broader impacts of civic ecology practices allows us to theorize how volunteer beach cleanup groups branch out and scale up their efforts to weave a global net of ocean stewardship.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the anonymous reviewers whose comments, suggestions, and encouragement greatly improved this manuscript.

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Funding was provided by National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NYC-147859).

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Correspondence to Bethany Jorgensen.

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Bethany Jorgensen and Juan Baztan: Members of Marine Sciences for Society.

Handled by Graham Epstein, University of Waterloo Faculty of Environment, Canada.

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Jorgensen, B., Krasny, M. & Baztan, J. Volunteer beach cleanups: civic environmental stewardship combating global plastic pollution. Sustain Sci 16, 153–167 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-020-00841-7

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Keywords

  • Marine litter
  • Civic ecology
  • Beach cleans
  • Ocean stewardship