Tens of thousands of volunteers each year across the state spend a day at local beaches, rivers, waterways and parks armed with bags and gloves and a mission: scoop up as much trash as they can before the rainy season hits and it’s all swept down into the ocean.
But this year, with gathering restrictions amid concerns about the coronavirus, the annual California Coastal Cleanup Day has instead turned into a month-long effort where volunteers can pluck trash up on their own schedules, with hopes that 30 days, instead of one, will allow for even more trash to be picked up.
California Coastal Cleanup – organizers dropped the world “day” this time – marks its 36th year.
It is typically held on the third Saturday in September, bringing out a collective group of like-minded volunteers, about 75,000 of them throughout the state, who clear out upwards of 900,000 pounds of debris from the shorelines and waterways. It also coincides with International Coastal Clean Up Day, which happens on a global scale.
The effort is especially important this year as more people have headed outdoors to recreate, said Eben Schwartz, Coastal Cleanup Day director.
“Our outdoor recreation areas are some of the last places available to use for peace and exercise, to get a little bit of our nature fix in the midst of these crazy times,” Schwartz said. “Unfortunately, they are bearing the brunt of our shelter-in-place, we are seeing a lot of trash collecting, not just in natural areas but city streets and neighborhoods. With our cities and counties as strapped as they are, we all need to ban together to pick up all this trash before the rain comes.”
The winter rainy season washes debris further inland, which for months gathers in streets and gutters, wedged in rocks or strewn across parks, out to sea, washing it down storm drains, rivers and creeks and into the ocean.
“The idea behind the cleanup this year is pretty simple actually: everything in California flows downhill to the coast,” the commission’s executive director, Jack Ainsworth, said in a news release. “We may not be able to visit or gather at the cleanup sites that our volunteers have taken such good care of over these many years, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still have a positive impact on the health of the coast and ocean.”
Last year’s figures show what a big impact volunteers had. In Los Angeles and Long Beach, an estimated 13,824 volunteers scooped up about 31,000 pounds of trash and recyclables, while in Orange County, 4,920 volunteers gathered about 25,000 pounds of trash. Inland Orange County efforts by Trails 4 All had 1,181 volunteers who gathered 18,352 pounds of debris.
The added help this year may be especially needed as more people are flocking to the coast with other entertainment amenities such as movie theaters and theme parks still shut down.
In Los Angeles County, authorities have started a “pack in, pack out” campaign to urge people to take their trash away from the beach, with trash cans overflowing and litter left behind on the sand. In Orange County, longtime beachgoers say the trash problem this summer is worse than ever as restaurants dining rooms remain closed and people take their meals to enjoy at the beach.
Schwartz said people can use forms and submit info on the website, coastalcleanupday.org, or download the CleanSwell data collection app to submit findings, where the data will be populated into a map to give organizers an idea of how many people have participated. The information is important to present data to policymakers who create legislation about items such as single-use plastic and litter laws.
“We will be able to see as clean-ups pop up throughout the state,” Schwartz said. “We will be able to track our progress and get a sense of how many cleanups are happening.”
Another favorite is the scavenger hunt to find the most unique or odd item. There will be the “most unusual contest” throughout the month from submissions sent in by volunteers.
“People aren’t limited to one clean up. They can clean up every day if they want to,” Schwartz said. “They can choose to focus on the Saturdays, or they can clean up whenever they have time.”
He did his first clean up in the back of a local grocery store, taking only 25 minutes to fill an entire bag.
“We are asking people to find the time wherever they can to help us out and to help the environment out,” he said. “We’re all missing the opportunity to gather together at large clean-up sites. But our hope is that when neighbors see neighbors out doing these clean ups, hopefully by doing them at the same time and same areas, we can restore that sense of community we are all missing right now.”
Orange County Coastkeeper and Heal is Bay in Santa Monica are among the nonprofit groups urging members to participate in the month-long effort.
“Even from our homes we can have an impact on the health of our coastal environments,” said Garry Brown, Orange County Coastkeeper founder and president. “We all must do our part to preserve them.”
More info on how to help: coastalcleanupday.org.
Source: Orange County Register