The Dirty Dozen and the Roster of the Ridiculous, it’s not a movie but the names given the list of over nine hundred and fifty thousand pieces of debris collected by Clean Ocean Action in their 2011 Beach Sweeps.Speaking at the Sea Gulls Nest in Sandy Hook on Wednesday, Clean Ocean Action presented the results from the 26th annual fall and winter “Beach Sweeps” clean up projects, which saw 7,575 volunteers collect 452, 698 pieces of debris.

Plastics proved to be this year’s main offender. The material (including foam) accounted for 83% of the waste found. Tavia Danch, Education Coordinator for COA, said small plastic pieces accounted for 63,117 of all collected items. Plastic bottle caps and lids and plastic food and candy wrappers came in at a close second and third with a combined pieces of nearly one hundred thousand.

In fact out of the “Dirty Dozen”, the list of the twelve most commonly found items, nine of the items were some kind of plastic product. Cigarette filters managed to come in at number five (the first time ever out of the top three), glass pieces was eighth, and lumber pieces were eleventh.

Cindy Zipf, COA Executive Director says this all reflects a trend of society’s consumer habits. She notes that while smoking bans and health concerns mean less cigarette butts on the beach, there’s a notable increase in plastic from disposable items.

She notes that in the past the pull tabs off of cans were very prevalent on the beach, now they have been replaced by pop tops. Likewise the iconic six pack rings which strangled wildlife in the past are becoming scarcer, being replaced with discarded cardboard soda boxes.

Zipf says in an example of changing trends, “in 2001 there were only three thousand plastic bottle caps collected off the beaches, in 2010 almost 62 thousand bottle caps were collected. So we’re really seeing a shift from consumerism.”

These plastics present a significant danger to the environment according to COA. Staff Scientist for COA, Dr. Heather Saffert, notes plastics do not biodegrade. Instead they break down physically through a photochemical reaction (sun light) and physical forces (waves).

She says this process causes each piece of plastic to break down into a smaller part and release harmful chemicals like Bisphenol A (BPA) and styrene trimer.

In addition to the dangers plastics pose to the environment, Saffert said eating the plastic can be fatal for wildlife.

Saffert explains much of the pollution isn’t just from beach goers, but flows from many sources on land and in sewer systems through out New York City and the New Jersey Metropolitan area.

“An individual might smoke a cigarette, flick it out there car window or onto the sidewalk and this eventually washed by the rain into a storm drain and out into our waterways,” explains Saffert.

Because there are many location from which the pollution can come, it’s difficult to pin down one specific source. However, Saffert says the heavy rain flow, especially from Tropical Storm Irene, contributed to 2011′s results.

“When you have intense heavy rains, the water can move even heavy items. We’re seeing things turn up from people’s lawns,” says Saffert, adding storm surges and tidal flooding can even pick up tires and drop them on the coast.

The 2012 Beach Sweeps even will be beginning Saturday April 21st throughout 70 sites along the Jersey Shore. The clean ups start at 9am until 12:30, rain or shine.

Beaches throughout Monmouth, Ocean, and Middlesex counties all take part in the two clean ups, totaling seven hours combined.