California Coastal Cleanup Day is extended through September

Ron Kluscar picks up trash during the 2019 Coastal Cleanup at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. Heather Wieshlow/Lariat

The California Coastal Cleanup Day will be held as an extended virtual format on Saturdays through September. This annual cleanup effort is usually held the third Saturday in September, and draws over 70,000 volunteers who turn out at over approximately 700 sites statewide. During the event, one million pounds of trash is removed from beaches, lakes, neighborhoods, local parks, streets and storm drains along the California coast and inland.

This event is part of the International Coastal Cleanup and organized by the Ocean Conservancy. Due to COVID-19, the California Coastal Cleanup will be held as a virtual event this year on Saturday’s, or participants can pick up trash at another time more convenient for their schedules.

“The International Coastal Cleanup is about community and collective action, and we – and the ocean – need that now more than ever. Allison Schutes, Director of the International Coastal Cleanup, at the Ocean Conservancy stated in an email. “While this year’s ICC looks a bit different due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there are still ways we can make a difference for our coasts and communities. That’s why we are recommending that volunteers work ‘together, apart,’ through individual or small-group cleanups as well as at-home initiatives that help keep trash and plastics out of our ocean.”

All cleanups in September will be included as part of Coastal Cleanup Month and efforts can be reported on the CleanSwell app that records trash collected, plus there is also a chance to enter the most unusual item contest.

“Those volunteers who are able to safely go out and do small group cleanups, we’d highly recommend they record their cleanup and collect data through our app.” Madeline Black, Communications Coordinator of the Ocean Conservancy said in an email.

In some areas of the state, local coordinators will hold special events and virtual programs throughout the month. Organizers are emphasizing that volunteers should follow COVID-19 safety guidelines when they participate in the Coastal Cleanup.

“Due to the ongoing COVID-19 concerns and our commitment to keep everyone safe, this year’s Coastal and Inner Coastal Cleanup are being held virtually.  We are partnering with OC Coastkeeper and encouraging residents to participate in their own individual cleanup efforts – cleaning their neighborhoods, local parks, or beaches. Though we’re specifically promoting Saturdays, individuals can head out and clean up their local areas any day this month,” stated Christy Suppes, Senior Environmental Resources Specialist, from the County of Orange, in an email.

Those looking to participate can register on the Eventbrite page and should follow all necessary safety measures, such as social distancing and face covering guidelines while enjoying cleanup activities.

The inspiration to hold a statewide cleanup event of this magnitude was not born in California, but came from a neighboring state. In 1984, Oregon resident Judy Neilson was concerned about the amount of plastic debris she saw littering the Oregon coast. She organized the first statewide beach cleanup event, calling it the “Plague of Plastics.”

The Coastal Commission in California emulated Judy’s efforts, and in 1985 held its first statewide Coastal Cleanup Day. Since then it has been hailed by the Guinness Book of World Records as “the largest garbage collection,” in 1993.

Over the past 35 years, over 1.5 million Californians have removed over 25 million pounds of debris, trash and recyclables from the state’s shorelines and coast.

Top items picked up during the clean-up include cigarettes butts and filters, food wrappers and containers. The “plague of the plastics” continues with the largest category of trash being plastic— caps, lids, bags, cups, plates, utensils, straws, stirrers and bottles. Glass, cans and construction material are also often found, along with off-beat items like urns, wedding rings and even chainsaws.

Numerous trash bags are filled after the 2017 Coastal Cleanup. Heather Wieshlow/Lariat

“I don’t think people throwing something away, understand how it affects the environment; they just think that someone else will pick-it up,” said Ron Kluscar, a four-time volunteer for the Coastal Cleanup. “I feel sad and disgusted when seeing all the trash.”

When it comes to trash, the community makes a difference.

“I’m grateful for the sponsors and people who get together as a group to show they care, Kluscar said.

California Coastal Cleanup Day combined with the International Coastal Cleanup makes for one one of the largest volunteer events of the year.