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Masks, other PPE and food-related trash show impacts of coronavirus during Coastal Cleanup month

There were the usual cigarette butts and bottle caps that made the Top 10 list.

But this year, there were new trends when looking at the data compiled during Coastal Cleanup Month, with preliminary reports released this week showing what volunteers scooped up on the beaches, waterways, parks and neighborhoods throughout the state during the month of September.

Discarded personal protective equipment, or PPE, from the pandemic made the Top 10 list for the first time. Plastic bags, banned in the state in 2014, made a comeback.

Most of the items that made the Top 10 list of trash found were food-related, with people discarding takeout containers, cups and utensils in streets, gutters, parks and waterways or leaving them behind at the beach, according to data digested by Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay.

Because of on-going coronavirus concerns, volunteers this year took the entire month to scoop up as much trash across the state as possible.  Typically, Coastal Cleanup happens on the third Saturday of September, but for safety organizers opted to hold a month-long event instead of encouraging large gatherings.

The effort is spearheaded by the California Coastal Commission, which encouraged people to “clean California’s coast from their own front door.”

Preliminary results show that an estimated 10,000 people turned out at more than 3,000 cleanups across the state, gathering close to 70,000 pounds of trash from neighborhoods, local parks, creeks, or other natural spaces.

While this year’s turn out was less than previous years – last year for example had 75,000 volunteers throughout the state who cleared out upwards of 900,000 pounds of debris – organizers said they are glad they were able to put a dent in the trash that’s accumulated before the rainy season.

“I’m ecstatic, the number of headwinds we faced in trying to make Coastal Cleanup happen this year was immense,” said Eben Schwartz, Coastal Cleanup Day director. “We are so sympathetic to everyone’s situations right now, we really saw the clean up as an opportunity to help build a sense of community and restore people’s ability to give back a little bit, which so many people miss.”

Orange County, so far, reported 427 volunteers who picked up more than 2,200 pounds of trash at about 300 clean-up sites, Schwartz said.

In Los Angeles, which also includes Long Beach, there were 202 clean ups with 381 volunteers who removed 1,740 pounds of trash, according to Schwartz, who noted those figures are only from an online app and many volunteers have not yet submitted their results.

For volunteers, giving back was a good way to make people feel connected.

“I’m so proud of what we were able to accomplish with Coastal Cleanup Month 2020,” Heal the Bay’s President and CEO Shelley Luce said. “In a time when we are feeling isolated from each other, our virtual programming and self-guided cleanups brought together thousands of people across LA County to protect our watershed from the mountains to the Pacific Ocean,”

The group, which has been the Los Angeles County organizing group for 31 years, set a goal to remove 31,000 pieces of trash during Coastal Cleanup Month. Volunteers were able to surpass that goal by collecting an estimated 40,101 pieces of trash throughout the month.

The cleanup effort is important not just to remove trash from beaches and waterways, but also to document trash trends, with this year showing the coronavirus has had an impact.

“In the first year of tracking this item, PPE was one of the Top 10 items found by our volunteers, surpassing common items like glass bottles,” the report said.

“Through this data, we can clearly see the effects of the pandemic on our waste stream. With indoor dining closed, people are relying more than ever on takeout, delivery and outdoor dining at beaches, parks, and other public spaces,” it said.

Stuff like utensils and straws, and takeout containers were the fourth and fifth most prevalent items collected.

The data illustrates the still-prevalent problem of single-use plastic, officials said.

“Unfortunately, the effects of COVID-19 have worsened these single-use habits and curbed a lot of progress that we’ve seen in Los Angeles over the last several years,” the report said.

The good news is, based on surveys, there were more first-timers who helped out this year.

“I think that’s partly because people could clean up where they lived,” Schwartz said. “We are touching people who might have thought they had to go to the coast to be a part of this and the coast was inaccessible.”

Schwartz said there was a lot of positive feedback from people who want the option next year to do cleanups on their own throughout the month. Organizers may opt to do a mix of holding a big one-day event, but allowing others to cleanup on their own schedules, in their own neighborhoods, throughout the month.

“Allowing the options, it’s even more opportunity for people to give back in a way that works best for them,” he said.

Encouraging people inland to scoop up trash before it hits the stormwater systems helps prevent it reaching the coast and ocean once the rainy season starts.

“Californians cherish our coast, and they proved it yet again under some of the most trying circumstances many of us have faced,” said Jack Ainsworth, executive director of the California Coastal Commission, in the news release. “Everything in California flows downhill to our coast, so while this year’s cleanup effort may have been unusual, it was still an important and effective way to engage in coastal stewardship.”

Source: Orange County Register

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