ENVIRONMENTAL AWARENESS SECTOR > Activities > Voluntary Beach Cleanups

Voluntary Beach Cleanups

In 1983, HELMEPA began a concerted summer awareness campaign starring the association's "Seagull", taking place every year since then, with the aim to spread the message for Clean Seas and Beaches to the general public. In this context, for the first time in Greece scouts and schoolchildren participated in voluntary beach cleanups, primarily in the region of Attica.

Since then, beach cleanups have been established as a key information and awareness tool for the prevention of marine litter pollution. Moreover, the adoption and cleanup of a beach constitutes the most popular activity of the "HELMEPA Junior" environmental education program, which since 1993 is offered to schoolchildren, 5-13 years old, in kindergartens and primary schools throughout Greece.

The association's Environmental Awareness Section coordinates in Greece two international voluntary initiatives: the International Coastal Clean-up Day and the European Clean-Up Day taking place in September and May respectively.

As the national coordinator of these activities in Greece, HELMEPA invites its member-companies, local authorities and concerned citizens across the country, to contribute to this initiative by devoting a few hours to cleanup a nearby beach, a section of the seabed, a river bank or lake, a forest area or park.

To facilitate the activities of the participants, HELMEPA provides them with supporting material (cleanup organization instructions, posters) and the special Trash Data Form, which should be completed and sent back. Moreover, HELMEPA contributes to the promotion of such voluntary activities throughout Greece and abroad.

The processing of the recorded information results in useful scientific data pertaining to quantities, composition and origin of waste, which are made public in order to raise awareness for pollution prevention.

By enriching the database that HELMEPA has established, the association is monitoring the trend of marine debris pollution in Greece and cooperates with national and international bodies (United Nations Environment Programme - UNEP/MAP, European Environment Agency, Ocean Conservancy, Algalita, etc.) on combating this problem in a more efficient way.

The International Voluntary Beach Cleanup for 2016 was organized and coordinated in Greece by HELMEPA between 17 September and 17 October, with a total of 4,560 volunteers who organized and carried out 89 beach and 16 underwater cleanups throughout Greece. Under the motto “We clean our beaches, record and recycle marine litter!”, children and youth, members of the “HELMEPA Junior” and “Cadets” programs respectively, as well as other students and teachers, staff of HELMEPA members and other companies, municipal and port authorities, members of environmental organizations and sailing clubs, divers and citizens actively participated in this initiative.

The volunteers cleaned up 81 km of beaches and shores of rivers and lakes, collecting and recording on data cards 13 tons of litter, of which 2.5 were recycled in cooperation with the Hellenic Recycling-recovery Corporation (He.R.R.Co.).

In total, volunteers collected 124,560 pieces of litter, from the tiniest pieces of plastic to a kids slide and a couch!

Cigarette butts are by far the No. 1 marine litter item, while prominent in the Top 10 list are plastics associated with recreational activities in the coastal zone and take a very long time to break down in the environment. Let’s not forget that a plastic bottle, which we may easily leave behind on the beach, needs approximately 450 years to break down into smaller fractions and finally microplastics that enter the food chain and end up on our plates.   Small pieces of plastics, foam and glass constitute 17% of the total items recorded.

Findings included, among other, 1,770 paper bags and 1,449 cups and plates, 1,343 metal bottle caps, 994 metres of rope, 963 glass bottles, 916 lighters, 439 metres of fishing line, 561 tin cans, 443 construction materials, 385 tires, 296 pharmaceutical substances, 284 corks, 253 diapers, 191 batteries, 85 buoys, 41 plastic containers and barrels, 35 electrical appliances, 10 hoses, 2 rubbish bins, 2 speakers, a cassette player, a steering wheel, a barbecue and a set of false teeth!

Type  items
Cigarette ends 44.701
Plastic pieces less than 2.5 cm 11.543
Plastic bottles 11.333
Plastic bottle caps 7.184
Foam pieces less than 2.5 cm 5.252
Glass pieces less than 2.5 cm 4.580
Plastic bags 4.182
Food wraps3.950
Aluminum beverage cans 3.505

During cleanups coordinated by HELMEPA in Athens and on the islands of Aegina and Skiathos, online recording of litter items were performed with te use of smartphones and tablets in the framework of the “Marine Litter Watch Month” of the European Environment Agency (ΕΕΑ), which aims at the scientific monitoring of pollution.

Commemorative participation Diplomas were awarded to the coordinators of the actions, as well as the children and youth that participated.



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