What's Trashing Our Beaches?

It's an unfortunate constant for beachgoers the world over: garbage.

Whether you're visiting the Outer Banks or the beaches of Phuket you're bound to have that moment of disgust when you realize that the place you've been looking forward to setting down your blanket is crowded with unwelcome visitors: wrappers, food containers, bottles and more.

This debris comes from a number of sources, among them storm drain runoff, ocean flotsam that washes ashore, and of course good old fashioned littering. (And this is to say nothing of debris from Japan's 2011 tsunami, which has been showing up in the U.S. for two years now.)

Environmental non-profit the Ocean Conservancy has been leading the fight against maritime garbage for 25 years now by sponsoring annual International Coastal Cleanups, during which volunteers  scour the world's coastlines with trash bags—think Adopt-A-Highway for beaches—and document what they pick up.

The organization released its data from last year's cleanup and the results show a clear trend. Cigarette butts topped the list, but if all categories related to drinks are combined, the overwhelming winner (loser?) is beverage containers. And although over half a million volunteers picked up 10 million pounds of trash from over 17,000 miles of coastline, this represents only a tiny drop in the bucket—pun intended—of all the beach debris out there.

Here are the ten worst offenders (click to expand):

(Infographic from Ocean Conservancy)