Clean UP

A list of the top 10 items found by volunteers during the Ocean Conservancy's 2012 Coastal Cleanup. (Ocean Conservancy / May 15, 2013)

The Ocean Conservancy has run the numbers, and over the course of a single day in September 2012, more than 500,000 volunteers from across the globe collected 10 million pounds of trash from beaches and waterways.

The top three most common items collected were cigarettes and cigarette filters (2.1 million), food wrappers (1.1 million), and plastic beverage bottles (1 million).

Yuck.

But at least it won't end up in the oceans.

Here in California, 35,000 people volunteered to help clean the beaches and waterways in our state and removed 304,529 pounds of garbage.

[Updated 10:53 a.m. PDT May 15: Eben Schwartz, who directs the California Coastal Cleanup effort, said the numbers provided by the national organization were incorrect. According to Schwartz's data, 65,000 volunteers in California removed 769,607 pounds of debris. This post has been edited to reflect those numbers.]

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, just 7,800 people removed 714,149 pounds of trash from their waterways.

How did they do it?

"People in Pennsylvania were cleaning creeks in inland locations and pulling out appliances, car parts, car batteries and items that you just couldn't dump on the beach without someone seeing you," said Nicholas Mallos, a conservation biologist and marine debris specialist at the Ocean Conservancy.

Volunteers in Virginia, who were also cleaning inland waterways, removed 491,506 pounds of trash.

The Ocean Conservancy, an environmental advocacy group based in Washington, has been sponsoring an annual day of beach cleanup for nearly 30 years. It's a worldwide effort called Coastal Cleanup.

The agency asks volunteers not only to collect trash but also to sort it as well, to get a sense of what trash is entering our oceans.

And so these dutiful volunteers sifted through damp cigarette butts and soggy food wrappers in order to quantify the human-generated waste that winds up clogging our oceans, lakes and rivers.

Among the weirdest items collected were 117 mattresses, 236 toothbrushes and 40 lottery tickets.

There was also a rubber chicken.

If you'd like to help with the effort this year, clear your calendar for Sept. 21 and and check out the Ocean Conservancy's website for details.

"Every item of trash collected is one less item that can reach the ocean," said Mallos. "At the Ocean Conservancy we celebrate the tremendous civilian effort, but true success would be not having to have this day of cleanup because there is no more trash on the beach."