By Paula White
2020 marks the tenth year I will be participating in Coastal Cleanup Day. In 2010, I was at Pt. Isabel in Richmond, working alongside several park rangers from the East Bay Regional Park District. My job was to explain to volunteers the purpose of collecting data on trash, aka marine debris. That, at least, hasn’t changed–I am still going to explain to volunteers why we collect data, and how important it is to our ongoing fight against plastic pollution. But other than that, Coastal Cleanup Day this year will be very different from other years.
As with almost all aspects of our daily life, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to make some major adjustments to the event this year. Most importantly, there will be no large gatherings at the traditional sites on our shorelines and creeks. Instead, we are asking everyone to “clean the shore from your front door” with family members. 36 years worth of Coastal Cleanup Day data has shown that 80% of the trash found on the coast originates from litter on streets that washes down storm drains when it rains. You may want to pay special attention to cleaning near storm drains in your neighborhood to prevent trash items from becoming marine debris.
California Coastal Cleanup Day is going to stretch out over the entire month of September this year .Instead of cleaning on only one day, we invite you to participate on any day of the month, but especially on one or more of the four Saturdays in September: 5, 12, 19, 26. You can register for the event here. All registrants will receive an email with tips for safe cleaning and a link to send in information about how many people cleaned, how many blocks were covered, and how many bags of trash you picked up. You will also be entered into a raffle. Speaking of bags, this is a do-it-yourself event. Many volunteers who have attended live events in previous years are familiar with bringing their own supplies. This year everyone who participates will need to bring their own bags or buckets and wear gloves. You will also be disposing of the trash you pick up in your own garbage can at home. We also strongly advise you to wear a mask or other face covering to minimize the chance of being exposed or exposing others to the coronavirus. That said, the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in an outdoor setting is far less than in an indoor space.
Speaking of COVID-19, you may have noticed discarded face masks and gloves on the street. What other impacts has COVID-19 had on trash in your community? One way to find out is through collecting data. This year The Watershed Project is encouraging people to use the Marine Debris Tracker app to collect trash data. It’s simple to use–see our website for steps on how to register. After you clean up, you will get a summary of how many items you picked up and other information. We are also sponsoring a virtual most unusual item contest. If you pick up anything truly odd, snap a photo and post it to #twpccdunusual2020. On October 1 you’ll have a chance to vote for the most unusual item.
Other than winning a prize, you may be wondering what the point of all this data collection is. Coastal Cleanup Day data has led to many product bans across the globe. Plastic bags have been banned in numerous countries and in California. Governor Newsom lifted the ban due to concerns over the coronavirus on April 23, but he re-banned the single-use plastic bag again on June 23. During the 60 days that the ban was rescinded, flimsy plastic bags quickly made their way back into the environment. Other plastic products that have been banned in many Bay Area cities include Styrofoam food and beverage containers, and straws. Pressure to ban straws also led Starbucks to make all its straws compostable. We need to put more pressure on companies to clean up their act. Today companies that sell products packaged in plastic make enormous profits from these items but are not held responsible for the costs of managing the mountains of plastic waste, except in the European Union. Many EU countries require companies to contribute to the cost of managing the packaging at the end of its life. The Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act is a U.S. bill that if passed would shift responsibility from cleaning up plastic waste from local governments funded by taxpayers to the companies that produce the waste. This would be a win both for the environment and for the consumer. If you would like to participate in a brand audit to gather data on the worst polluters in your neighborhood, send an email to me firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line brand audit. Finally, you can snap a photo of a piece of branded trash and post it to our #trashwallofshame.
Sadly, the plastic that is choking our waterways and harming hundreds of marine species is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the environmental and health consequences of plastic production. We invite you to tune into a virtual showing of the film The Story of Plastic followed by a discussion on zoom on Sunday, September 13 at 3:00 pm. Click here to register for the film and panel discussion. And we hope you will participate in at least one, if not all four of the Saturdays of Coastal Cleanup Day!