Lessons from Coastal Cleanup Day 2015

Coastal Cleanup Day Volunteers
Coastal Cleanup Day volunteers pick up trash along the MLK Shoreline in Oakland.

Every year, the third Saturday of September is set aside as Coastal Cleanup Day. Observed internationally, this is a day when many people from all over the globe participate in removing waste from our coastlines and waterways. An astonishing amount of trash is removed from creeks, beaches, sloughs and bays. The Ocean Conservancy reports that 560,000 volunteers in 91 countries picked up more than 16 million pounds of trash on Coastal Cleanup Day 2014! This year’s event reiterated, in my mind, the need to address pollution at the source.

I am proud to share that on September 19th, over 100 Save The Bay volunteers cleaned up nearly 1 mile of land bordering waterways in Oakland and San Jose, and removed 1,600 pounds of trash. Most of these items include fast foodware, one-time use products, and tobacco litter. This trash travels down storm drains that directly connect city and suburban streets to our beloved San Francisco Bay, allowing trash and unseen pollutants to enter the Bay unfiltered and untreated.

Although Save The Bay leads many wetland restoration programs year-round, Coastal Cleanup Day is by far my favorite day of the year, albeit a day of disheartening and discouraging feelings. I often hear volunteers say “I can’t believe this” or “This is so depressing”, and that feeling resonates with me most. The hundreds of food wrappers, straws, cigar tips, toys, and Styrofoam pieces found in a 3-foot radius around you can make trash cleanup feel overwhelming, but that can be a good thing.

This new-found perspective on just how much trash ends up in our waterways often motivates change. I encourage volunteers to take note of items we find on the shoreline and draw connections to things we all use in everyday life. Straws? No, thank you. Coffee cups and lids, complete with a sleeve? Bring your own mug and you’ll cut down on three pieces of waste in one purchase. The more we make these everyday changes and replace one-time use items with reusable options, the more impact we’ll each have on reducing pollution and waste. Lastly, make sure that the trash we do produce ends up in the proper receptacles, so we can recycle salvageable items and ensure that trash will not enter our waterways.

Check out the top ten items collected in California on Coastal Cleanup Day. Which do you use? How will you prevent pollution? Join Save The Bay and pledge to keep trash from flowing into San Francisco Bay before we need to clean it up.