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California Coastal Cleanup Day returns to in-person hunts for trash

When the pandemic upended people’s daily lives, the beaches became a place where they sought space and relaxation.

But sadly, many visitors left a trail of trash behind.

California Coastal Cleanup Day is a way to give back to the beach, this year returning to its one-day volunteer format on Sept. 18, rather than a virtual month-long event like last year.

The day also coincides with International Cleanup Day, one of the largest global volunteer campaigns to make sure the coast is clear, with helpers typically turning out en masse to help pluck up trash before it reaches the sea.

“The pandemic took a significant toll on all of us in so many ways,” California Coastal Commission Executive Director Jack Ainsworth said in a news release. The commission heads the statewide effort. “There were times when outdoor spaces became the only places many of us could safely go to refresh and reflect.

“While it’s been wonderful to see so many rediscover and enjoy our coast, some of those spaces paid the price for our inability to run organized cleanup events last year,” he said. “This Coastal Cleanup Day will be an important opportunity for us all to take care of this precious resource.”

Because of the pandemic and rules against gathering, the 2020 event was virtual with people doing solo cleanups or going out into their own neighborhoods with family members or small groups and reporting in with their trash hauls.

About 17,000 volunteers reported in, tallying more than 150,000 pounds of trash removed, a small dent compared to the previous year, in 2019, when 74,000 volunteers removed 900,000 pounds of trash from beaches and waterways throughout California.

California Coastal Cleanup Day is going back to being a one-day event, this year on Sept. 18, rather than the entire month like last year when the coronavirus pandemic prohibited gatherings.(Photo by Geronimo Quitoriano)

California Cleanup Day is the state’s largest volunteer event. Since 1985, more than 1.6 million people have removed more than 26 million pounds of trash, Coast Commission officials said.

Efforts extend beyond the beach, volunteers will be scattered throughout the state to remove trash from streets, parks, creeks, streams and rivers “to help prevent single-use plastic items and other litter from polluting our environment and flowing into the ocean.”

This year will include a “Most Unusual Item Contest.”

Volunteers should follow their county public health guidance, organizers said, and are encouraged to wear masks and social distance.

For those who would rather do their own cleanup – or still want to use the entire month to help – the Coastal Commission will still encourage volunteers to recognize Coastal Cleanup Month by “cleaning up wherever they are, whenever they can,” the event announcement said.

“Trash on our streets and in local creeks and parks can easily become ocean pollution once the rains arrive and wash that trash into stormwater systems and ultimately out to the ocean. Neighborhood cleanups give everyone the opportunity to participate, no matter when it might occur.” Volunteers can download a Clean Swell app during or after their cleanup to submit their totals to a larger statewide tally.

California Coastal Cleanup Day is going back to being a one-day event, this year on Sept. 18, rather than the entire month like last year when the coronavirus pandemic prohibited gatherings. (Mindy Schauer/SCNG)

Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay volunteers are eager to join the effort, planning in-person group cleanups on Sept. 18, which is also the 32nd year of the organization hosting the biggest volunteer cleanup in Los Angeles County.

Last year, Heal the Bay volunteers removed 40,101 pieces of trash from neighborhoods, parks, trails and beaches. For the first time ever PPE, such as masks and gloves, made its way into the Top 10 trash items volunteers found in LA’s outdoor areas, Heal the Bay officials said.

In the past 20 years, Heal the Bay volunteers have removed more than 4 million pieces of trash and debris from LA County beaches.

“There are still 8 million tons of plastic being dumped into our oceans every year. That’s equivalent to one garbage truck-full every single minute,” Heal the Bay’s event announcement said.  “Heal the Bay demands statewide action to address this pollution crisis and advocates for policies and practices that reduce plastic at the source.”

There are 25 coastal, inland and river sites throughout the LA County region to choose from, though they are limited in capacity due to COVID-19 health and safety precautions. Registration is required, so check at for available locations.

In Orange County, several cleanup efforts will be happening, with nonprofits such as Orange County Coastkeeper and the Surfrider Foundation hosting locations along the 42-mile coastline.

It is Coastkeeper’s sixth year hosting Coastal Cleanup Day events in Orange County, with more than 30 sites set up on the coast and inland. The theme this year is “Protect Your Happy Place.”

Prior to the pandemic, more than 7,000 Orange County volunteers collected a record-breaking 70,485 pounds of trash and recyclable materials during the three-hour event. Some of the most obscure findings have included wigs, a flute and car parts, according to Coastkeeper.

Attendance is free and supplies will be provided if needed.

“However, Coastkeeper aspires to accomplish a low-waste event and asks that volunteers bring their own cleanup supplies including a bucket or reusable bag, gloves and reusable water bottle,” an announcement reads.

Stand Up To Trash, founded by Dana Point resident Vicki Patterson, is meeting at Baby Beach in the Dana Point Harbor, with registration on the sand or at the Ocean Institute where bags, buckets and grabbers will be provided.

Fresh coffee, hot chocolate and donuts will be provided by Coffee Importers – bring your own reusable cup if you have one – and single or double kayak or stand-up paddleboards will be provided by Westwind Sailing for an “on the water” cleanup.

David McGuire, founder of the shark and marine conservation nonprofit Shark Stewards, will be a guest speaker at the event and prizes will be given out for biggest catch, smallest catch and the most unusual finds.

Most cleanups happen from 9 a.m. to noon, but check specific site information at

Source: Orange County Register

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