The Race to Zero Waste is picking up speed. This month we celebrate the ban of plastic bags in California and expect to see fewer and fewer bags along our creeks and shores straight away and in years to come. We also have seen more and more participation in cleanup events. We were humbled and grateful by the overwhelming response from our volunteers during Coastal Cleanup Day last month. Volunteers came out by the thousands to help clean up the shorelines and creeks from Discovery Bay to Albany Beach. Close to 3,000 volunteers collected over 26,000 pounds of marine debris (trash) in one morning. We are very proud of our volunteers. Thanks everyone for doing your part and understanding that our individual actions, from mountain to marsh, affect the health of our watersheds.
What stands out during cleanups–the items most prevalent along the shore and creeks–is the refuse from our single use disposable lifestyles. As those plastic convenience packaging items break down into small pieces, they become bite size for local wildlife. In West Contra Costa County alone, volunteers counted and collected approximately 20,000 small pieces of plastic foam (polystyrene) and 15,000 little small pieces of plastic, as well as other trash that included 7,000 cigarette butts, 4,000 food wrappers, 3,000 bottle caps, 1,500 straws and 1,400 plastic bags. Not one of those items had any lasting use for the person who purchased and used it.
During the Cleanup, volunteers have fun looking for the weird and unusual; and this year was no exception.
At the Albany beach a high school student found a set of dentures. What? Who leaves their teeth at the beach? Some volunteers speculated that “perhaps an elderly person had left them behind after a picnic?” Another person suggested that “it may have come from someone at sea suffering from sudden sea sickness.” Or, who knows? Dentures float. Maybe they came down from the headlands?
A young man also found this very peculiar lamp at Shimada Friendship Park. The lamp has a long cloth cord attached to a heavy cement base and a porcelain light bulb socket. According to one of our Facebook fans: “It appears to be a remnant of a noyade fixture, French made, they used it on boats on the Loire. It was probably used for overhead illumination in the hold.” Nobody could come up with any ideas of how the lamp made it to our shore, but fragments of boats are often found along the shore and perhaps the lamp was one of the only surviving elements of a long lost castaway boat.
Our last finalist for the most unusual item found during Coastal Cleanup Day 2014 was a small plastic mouse. It was very likely a cat toy, and we imagined the cat losing its treasured plastic toy in an alley way and like in the itsy bitsy spider song…down came the rain and washed the cat toy away–into the Bay.
We hope that thinking about how items find their way into the Bay serves as a reminder of the way our watersheds connects us to the Ocean and how one can never simply throw something away – there is no “away” when it comes to our refuse.