The ocean once again returns what we have thrown away.

Autoras: Nuria Rizo, Inés Calvo y Alicia Manzano

CENTRO EDUCATIVO: European International School of Barcelona  

Over the last few years, people have become more aware and conscious of the problem surrounding discarded plastic and pollution. Regarding a solution to this worrying issue, some changes and improvements have already been made, but we have not yet seen the kind of involvement necessary from the majority of people, in order to fight against this global issue. One of main impacts that mankind has had on the environment is reflected in the amount of plastic refuse we find on our beaches, where huge amounts of litter accumulates each day. The government and city council of each region normally hires staff to clean them regularly, but the garbage consumed is produced faster and accumulates on an ever rapidly increasing basis, making it impossible to deal with. One of the most popular beaches in Barcelona is “La Barceloneta”, which is the one referred to in this article. 

On the days prior to the date planned to go to the beach, a very strong storm called Gloria broke out. It had a disastrous impact even taking some people's lives along with it. Consequently, it was in a poor state. Lots of old wood, broken branches, but especially cane was found due to the strong storm, concretely the 9 km of beach were covered in cane and there were lots of sections of the beach that were not accessible or even visible to locals. The companies involved in cleaning the beaches, were trying to negotiate if they could bring sand in order to fill the gaps that the storm had carried away. 

Gloria caused lots of damage and nowadays there are still some people trying to come back to normality. 

Every week-end or at least twice a month, volunteers go to the beach to pick up the rubbish left on the beach. In summer the amount of volunteers increases and they come at least 3 times per week. There are different organizations involved in this work, but those involved use blue recycled bin bags and when they finish, they bring the bags to collection points where they empty them. Some NGOs also set up stands at the beach during the day and they encourage volunteers to collect cigarette butts and plastic refuse, and in this way, they help keep the beaches  cleaner. On the other hand, the refuse collection services collect the cans, the normal litter from the allocated bins, on a daily basis. 

Apart from the refuse collection staff, there were also many volunteers who went to help clean up the beach during the day, ranging from individuals who went there with their family of their own initiative, as well as larger groups of organized people who volunteer regularly. 

The first one of these was the Oceanic Global organisation. They made a call for people to join them, of which 166 persons responded. In addition, instead of using regular plastic bags to put the garbage collected in, they used ones made of fabric which they provided for the volunteers. The organizer called Ely said that they spent two and a half hours, from 10:30 to 12:00, going from one end of the beach to the other, cleaning the beach, picking up each residue, piece by piece.

There was also a man who explained that he and his wife, and son came, especially after a day of high winds, storm or heavy seas. He explained that they spent between half and two hours on the beach. During this time they collected all kinds of trash, but the most common ones were cigarettes, cotton buds, lollipop sticks, napkins, tampons and wet-wipes.
After that, we talked to a father of two girls, who had come for the first time to help with the clean-up operation. When interviewing him he said they had been there about twenty minutes and that they had found lots of small bits of plastic.

Although there are already people who volunteer, some organisations have taken initiatives to encourage more people to help.

But not only were the volunteers and the refuse collectors helping out, but also local bars and restaurants were making contributions by giving a reward to those who contributed to the cause. For example, the Bar Gallito gave away free beers that day to the adults who were volunteering. They had been offering it for two days. The manager explained that the reason why they did this was for beaches to be clean and give a good impression, as it was one of the main attractions for tourists visiting Barcelona, and as such, was an important source of income for lots of people. Furthermore, they worry about the devastation of these ecosystems and their welfare. He explained that they were part of a group of restaurants called “Grupo Tragaluz” of the “Compañía de los Lobos”, which initiated this idea. They gather up all the garbage collected by the volunteers, separate it and sends it to the recycling plant. Another day, a bar served free paella to those who came and helped. 

The main interview was with the director of one of the companies who answered most of our questions. The following information was taken from the interview. 

The amount of litter accumulating has increased compared to 5 years ago. A possible explanation might be the increase in the number of local inhabitants,  but also in tourists that come especially in summer. During this season, the beaches during the day are partly fine, but after the habitual parties at night, the beaches are a complete mess, as party-goers throw all the bottles, cigarettes and leftover food bags behind on the sand, so that in the morning, the people who clean the beaches need to spend extra time cleaning up all this stuff. 
The days that they collect more litter are Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday as these are the party days for the teenagers. The months when they collect more are from June to September, as it is the summer period and most people prefer to go to the beach rather than mountains. 

The metropolitan beaches, with an area of ​​more than two million m2 of sand, are visited every year by more than 8.5 million people, thus, the workers need to work hard to keep the beaches clean, so sports and leisure activities can be done. Barcelona companies clean the beach in the morning, in the afternoon and at night and compared to other parts of Spain, they clean a lot more, as the other places clean only once a day. The work is distributed this way: there are 9 brigades of 3 people each, and each one cleans a different beach. They take between one and a half to nearly two hours to collect all the litter and clean all the beach. One of them focuses on the sand, the other on the bins, and the last one on the plastics and things that are thrown on the ground. 

As mentioned before, the promenades were full of sand and citizens were not able to walk. When there is a storm or there are winds from Africa, the sand levels rise up and end up invading the street, which is why the next day, a tractor has to flatten the sand and a machine throws water on top, so that the sand doesn’t rise so much. 

There are 2 companies that clean the Barcelona beach; one focuses more on the beach and the other on the streets nearby, but if any of the two one day needs help, the other has to step in. So, although they work separately,  at the end of the day, they both want the same thing, which is to keep the Barcelona beaches clean and make a good impression on visitors.

Recently, they have not found lots of animals in the sea or on the shore, although it is true that some days they have found some wild boars dragged along by the stream.
It is obvious that the contamination from severe storms and other sources, can have serious effects, but this can be changed, if we are more conscientious and civic-minded, and become aware of the gravity of the problem,  as now we are in time to start to fix everything. To start with, the supermarkets must start changing consumer habits, as they waste lots of unnecessary plastics. For instance, for the fruit and vegetables, they give the client a plastic bag for only one piece of fruit or two instead of encouraging customers to bring their own reusable bags. This problem of over-packaging  derives from the strict health rules that are in force, but in most cases it’s not necessary to use so much plastic. The government should reevaluate this legislation, so that safety is still ensured but also respects nature and doesn’t use more packaging than is strictly needed. 

In summer there are more boats in the sea, but they have their own bins so they do not throw as much litter into the sea as the people that are on the beach. Nevertheless, gasoline coming from these boats pollutes much more. While it is true that the cleaning companies use trucks to clean the promenade, they are doing a service, on the other hand most of the boats are for leisure. The government is  looking for a solution to improve the situation and they are trying to replace the gasoline trucks with electric trucks.

China, India and The United States are the biggest polluters.

But it is not only Spain that has to make some changes. As we can see in the following graph showing the municipal solid waste generated on a daily basis, in kilograms, per capita, worldwide in 2018, The United States, Canada and Australia are the highests ranked. Although Spain is not shown on this graph, the waste per person in our country is 1.28 kg. That means that each person in these three countries mentioned before consume, on average, roughly twice as much as we do. In 2016 the people from Barcelona generated 762,000 tons of residues, that is to say, 474.5 kg per person per year, 0.13 kg per day.

There are some ways to reduce plastic for example always keeping a bag with you so when you go to the supermarket you can use that one instead of buying and then wasting another one. Secondly, carrying a reusable water bottle so that when you are thirsty you can fill it up in any fountain. Furthermore, using bio bags instead of plastic bags as they are biodegradable compostable bags. Also, it is recommended not to use disposable cutlery, as an alternative have a home cooked meal and use reusable coffee mugs or a mason jar. Moreover, it is better to try to buy items packed in glass instead of plastic. Finally, when you finish the content of a glass jar recycle them and use them as tupperware. 
The oceans are amongst the most damaged ecosystems thanks to our careless lifestyle. They suck most of the CO2 that we emit, something that alters its chemical balance, damaging lots of species. On top of that, the rivers and the winds transport lots of litter into the seas. Paradoxically, they fight back returning part of this litter to us, as if they wanted to remind us how much damage we are doing.

In conclusion, there are lots of areas on the beach with plenty of trash. The trash has increased in the last 5 years due to the fact that more tourists come to our country. The climate conditions, causes a bad impact too. When the wind from Africa comes, it brings all the sand to the roads and the litter on the beach is brushed into the sea. 

With this project we've learned that the future of our planet is in our hands. No matter if it’s your first time doing a volunteer project or you are an expert, an organisation or a reduced group, all help is welcome and beneficial for our beaches and thus, our oceans. Moreover, we have to be civic-minded in order to make the world a better place for the future generations, otherwise we will destroy it completely. We have seen that, at the Barceloneta, every weekend, aside from the workers, there are volunteers that help to collect the residues.  If these types of activities, as well as other solutions we have proposed were more widely adopted, it’s certain that the situation would improve.


Our main information has been extracted from interviews with the director of one of the cleaning companies, families that worked as volunteers,  an organization that arranged volunteer projects and with one of the restaurants that gave a reward to those who picked up rubbish off the beach. 

Metropolitan beaches of Barcelona services:
For Denmark information:
Amount of production in Barcelona:

By: Nuria Rizo, Inés Calvo and Alicia Manzano