sonoma county beach

Volunteers removed 130,000 pounds of trash in advance or rainy season

Throughout September, California Coastal Commission’s annual Coastal Cleanup — normally held on one day in September, but was held throughout the month this year due to COVID-19 — helped remove trash and debris before the rainy season could sweep it out to sea.

According to an Oct. 22 statement from the California Coastal Commission, over 13,000 Californians took to their neighborhoods during the month, removing over 130,000 pounds of trash from streets, local parks, creeks and beaches. Volunteers reported pandemic-related trash in their neighborhoods and beyond as they recognized that trash in California can flow easily through stormwater systems to reach the coast and ocean once the rains begin. Cleaning neighborhoods and inland areas is one way of preventing trash from polluting the coast. 

“The urge to help our environment wasn’t the only thing that was revealed during September. The data volunteers collected also helped shine a light on the impact that the pandemic has had on our environment. Volunteers at over 3,000 cleanup sites tallied trash items by the thousands, providing crucial information on what types of trash have accumulated in the state,” said the statement. “The most common items were unsurprising: cigarette butts topped the list as they do every year, followed by food wrappers, bottle caps and plastic bottles, items of food and beverage packaging that make up the largest category of Coastal Cleanup data every year. However, plastic grocery bags, which had been falling steadily in the data set since 2010 — to the point where they were not in the top 10 — saw an uptick this year to the sixth most commonly found item, an indication that the pandemic and the state’s temporary pause on the statewide plastic bag ban had a significant impact on our environment.” 

However, the pandemic has brought a new round of trash items to contend with: Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Volunteers in California removed over 6,000 disposable gloves and masks during their cleanups, items that had previously not been reported in significant numbers. These items added a new plastic burden to natural areas already inundated with trash as people sought outdoor areas in which to recreate and relax while physically distancing. 

“California was awash in single-use disposable plastics even before COVID-19 hit,” said Eben Schwartz, marine debris program manager of the California Coastal Commission in the statement. “The data we gathered really helps tell the story of what has been happening to our state since this began, and the increases in plastic bag litter and PPE are part of that story. I’m proud and grateful that so many Californians answered the call to help clean up before that trash had a chance to become ocean pollution.” 

The commission continues to highlight the damage that trash can cause to California’s wildlife, economy and even human health. Eight of the top ten items volunteers removed this past September were single-use, disposable plastic — a material that never completely biodegrades and has numerous harmful consequences in the environment. Plastic pollution can kill wildlife, leach toxins into the environment and even introduce them into the food chain. Since up to 80% of the trash on the California coast originates on land, volunteers across the state helped prevent enormous amounts of trash from ever reaching the ocean, no matter where they participated.  

If you participated in the cleanup,  go to www.coastalcleanupday.org to fill out the Coastal Cleanup Survey and receive a free taco from Rubio’s. You will also be entered into a drawing for some fabulous prizes. To stay involved with the cleanup efforts throughout the year, please visit the Adopt-A-Beach page on the same website or send an email to: coast4u@coastal.ca.gov.

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