More than 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into our oceans every year, and even on the world’s most pristine, five-star beaches you might be surprised what you’ll find if you look a little closer. Shocked by the plastics waste she picked up along the shoreline in her native Costa Rica, Carolina Sevilla started the 5-Minute Beach Clean Up movement, which has gone global. Helen Farmer reports

Recent research from the the University of Georgia and the University of California found plastic weighing the equivalent of one billion elephants has been produced since the 1950s, with only 9 per cent recycled and 12 per cent incinerated. The rest? It has tragically been put in landfill sites or the natural environment, and polluting soil and oceans, and experts estimate that 90 per cent of the world’s seabirds now have pieces of plastic in their guts.

But what if every time you went to the beach, you spent just five minutes cleaning up? Just five minutes. What impact could you make? This was the question Carolina Sevilla from San José, Costa Rica, asked herself. And now millions of people all over the world have learnt of her campaign and are sharing their efforts online.

After an internship with Nobel Prize-winner Dr Oscar Arias in his Foundation for Peace, Sevilla discovered her passion for human rights, which led to a placement with the UN and a career in Diplomacy in New York. After more than eight years, she took a sabbatical, and returned to her home country.

‘This is the moment when I realised what was happening with ocean pollution, with plastic killing our marine life and birds,’ Sevilla says. ‘I started crying watching the videos and two days after I started writing to different companies and organisations to see how to get involved.’ She has been working for BIONIC®, an engineering company that supplies the consumer and industrial markets with fully traceable materials made from coastal and marine plastics for a year and a half.

Each day she gets up at 6am, drinking coffee while looking at the waves, then surfs or, if it’s rainy season, spends her morning doing beach clean-ups before lunch and work, and enjoying sunset with friends. She’s seeing first-hand the damage plastics are doing to our planet.

A Facebook video about Sevilla and her campaign went viral earlier this year, garnering over 7.6 million views, taking the campaign to the next level. Since starting her clean ups, she has found everything from packaging to syringes, and now followers from everywhere from Florida to India send Sevilla photos of them with their finds, which she shares on her feed. ‘I have been surprised to see people wanting to do the same, to take time and clean and not be ashamed of it,’ she says.

So which image has surprised her the most? ‘One of some guys in Tasmania carrying a big industrial buoy that washed up on the beach for 1.5 km to the garbage point. I’m sent so many amazing photos, but the one that meant the most to me was of my friend of mine cleaning the river in Costa Rica. The smell was so disgusting it was very hard to take the garbage out of the river walls. She is truly my heroine.’

So next time you go for a swim, or walk along the beach, can you spare five minutes to make a difference?