Last year’s campaign for California Coastal Cleanup Day had a hopeful message. It asked people to show their beaches, shorelines, and creeks a little love by coming out on a Saturday morning to help clean them up. It said: “Every bit of trash you remove reveals something beautiful.” This message resonated with many Bay Area residents; over 2,500 people showed up in Contra Costa County alone. The San Francisco Bay Area is considered one of the most beautiful urban landscapes on the planet, and is full of living creatures adapted to the conditions of our creeks, estuary, and marshes. But trash has become an epidemic around the Bay that affects the health of these ecosystems. Last year, volunteers came out by the thousands to clean their favorite spots and enjoy the outdoors. Despite getting a little wet in a surprise rainstorm, they went home with a sense of accomplishment-and many creeks, marshes, and shorelines free of marine debris.
The sad part of this story is that I came back with my family the next day to the same beach I had cleaned with our volunteers and found that the rains had brought the “first flush” of trash from the storm drain systems, leaving the beach as dirty as it was before 500 people had cleaned it the previous day. At this point, you might be asking, “What is the point? This is a never-ending cycle!”
The truth is that we cannot solve the problem if we do not work on the root causes and sources of the marine debris we find along creeks and shorelines. The sources, as many people are aware, are found upstream in our communities and our ways of life. We use too many disposable and convenience packaging items; we still see littering on sidewalks, parking lots, roads and driveways; not to mention the unintended spills of trash blown from trash cans and dumpsters. All that debris will end up in our water ways sooner or later.
Cleaning up streets, sidewalks, roads, and parking lot is an end-of-cycle activity, as is cleaning creeks and shorelines, but the way I see it, Coastal Cleanup Day is a way to participate in an effort that provides a last chance opportunity to do the right thing. It is the last chance to pick up the potato chip wrapper or the plastic bag that escaped the garbage truck on collection day, the last chance to remove from the ocean environment cigarette butts, food containers, plastic bottles, bottle caps, Styrofoam cups, plastic utensils, fast food wrappers, plastic bags, and small plastic pieces. But more importantly, it is a way to remind us all why we need to pledge to avoid convenience packaging, and an opportunity to renew our commitment to refuse to use plastics.
The sheer number of items collected that day makes a very compelling case for why we need to keep doing this job. Last year alone, volunteers around the globe collected 1,685,422 individual food wrappers and 9,164 in Contra Costa County alone.
For now, Coastal Cleanup Day serves three very important goals: It educates thousands of people about the problem of marine debris (over 640,000 people participated around the planet in 2013; 2,500 in Contra Costa County); it records progress and trends in the type of human-made debris found along our creeks, rivers, and shorelines; and as the largest cleanup event of the year, it gives our waterways a fresh start before the rainy season carries it all away…into the middle of the sea. Please sign up today to volunteer and learn about marine debris and ways you can help protect the San Francisco Bay Watershed.
Waiver forms: Each volunteer must have a signed waiver form to participate. Children must be accompanied by an adult. To save time at the registration table, print and complete waiver here (English | Espanol).