SANTA CRUZ -- Beach lovers are taking their desire to keep trash out of the sea to a new place: a laboratory. The Ocean Conservancy, which oversees annual beach cleanups across the globe, is using the city of Santa Cruz's landfill for an experiment it is calling the "Trash Lab."

Earlier this week, the group and partner Save Our Shores separated, dried and weighed trash collected from seven local beaches during the statewide Sept. 15 trash pickups.

"There's been so much discussion and yet still very little scientific data and information on trash in the ocean," said Kaitilin Gaffney, Ocean Conservancy's pacific program director. "So we're trying to move this issue along and expand our understanding and help reduce the threat."

The National Academy of Sciences estimates 6.4 million tons of trash make it into the ocean every year worldwide. The Coastal Cleanups are an attempt to capture some of that, but also to raise awareness to be mindful of debris.

What's the verdict? Judging by the weight of trash collected, it's no surprise: Santa Cruz County likes beer.

While discarded picnic items -- paper plates, plastic knives -- are commonly found on popular family beaches like Rio del Mar, blowout bashes apparently reign on the North Coast's Davenport and Panther beaches.

"It's weekend parties. Beer bottles and beer cans. Hundreds, thousands of cans and bottles," Gaffney said.

The Ocean Conservancy studied trash from four additional beaches: Seabright Beach, Sunset State Beach, Manresa State Beach and Seascape Beach. Seabright, a highly trafficked beach cleaned regularly, held less trash than more remote outposts.

Volunteers used the city's Resource Recovery Facility to separate and weigh trash, noting the results and sending them off to headquarters to see if the Ocean Conservancy wants to expand the program, particularly with so much focus on marine debris.

The group found no likely tsunami items from beach cleanups. But that doesn't mean there weren't oddities.

Seascape held 40 golf balls, while no other beach held even one. Seascape Golf Course is in the vicinity, but to hit a shot onto the shore is impossible.

Volunteers also found two televisions -- both at Panther Beach. And you practically could put together an outfit with the variety of apparel found.

"We must have had 50 shoes," Gaffney said.

The group also is analyzing found bits of plastic, which can pose a threat to marine life, trying to determine the source.

"Because we have staff here in Santa Cruz, we decided to have the first pilot here. We'll just take this data and information and figure out where we go next," Gaffney said.

Follow Sentinel reporter Jason Hoppin on Twitter at Twitter.com/scnewsdude

---

©2012 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.)

Visit the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.) at www.santacruzsentinel.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services