Soggy Coastal Cleanup Day Yields Unexpected Lesson

Saturday, September 21, 2013 was a strange day. The last day of summer brought a freak September rain storm, which swiftly dropped tons of rain on a thirsty Bay Area and marked the first-ever confluence of Coastal Cleanup Day and First Flush. First Flush is our term for the first big rain of the season, which washes actual rivers of trash from streets into storm drains and out into our waterways and the Bay.

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That may sound dramatic but it’s not. We had a perfect view of this phenomenon from Highway 880, as we headed home from our cleanup site at Martin Luther King Jr. Shoreline in Oakland, CA. The water was flowing swiftly and we could see Styrofoam cups and plastic water bottles, along with other debris, bobbing along in the current right next to the highway.

Despite the rain, 145 volunteers turned out at our two cleanup sites at MLK Shoreline and Coyote Creek in San Jose. They picked up a total of 77 bags of trash before the deluge began. The storm provided a great teaching moment when a reporter from NBC Bay Area showed up to film a television segment. Allison Chan, our Clean Bay Campaign Manager, was able to talk on camera about the fact that stormwater runoff (most of which is trash) is actually the biggest pollution threat the Bay faces.

Coastal Cleanup Day is one day a year when millions of volunteers gather worldwide to pick up trash from beaches, shorelines, and creek sides. It’s a great way to raise awareness of the trash problem in our waterways. But I’m not sure the public gets the connection that the trash they pick up on Coastal Cleanup Day isn’t just from a few badly behaved beach goers, or people littering off of their boats. It comes from all of us. It blows out of garbage cans, gets dumped in gutters, and blows away during picnics. That’s why we at Save The Bay work with cities and counties to prevent the most commonly littered items from ending up in our gutters and the Bay in the first place. Cigarette butts, plastic bags, and Styrofoam food containers are some of the biggest offenders.

You can help prevent these items from entering the Bay, choking wetlands, harming water quality, and killing wildlife. Sign our petition telling tobacco companies to Keep their Butts out of our Bay, and support plastic bag and Styrofoam bans in your community. Is your city on the map?