Celebrating Bay Heroes: Meet The Family Behind “Drain Robot”

Ocean Beach cleanup, photo: Aaron Hazlewood

“I’m not sure how Will came up with ‘Drain Robot.’ We have fish named Sharky and Stripey? I think 5-year-olds just have a really good knack for names.”

Eva Holman’s voice lifts when she describes her son’s passion for sweeping up trash in their neighborhood, his decision to “adopt” a nearby storm drain and name it: “Drain Robot.” But she deserves at least a little credit for these accomplishments.

Eva, after all, has two undeniable talents: naming campaigns and preventing pollution. A recent example blending both? “Plastic Straws Suck.”

A San Francisco native, Eva has “always been a beach person.” But she didn’t catch the “beach cleanup bug” until her 30th birthday. Eva was celebrating with friends in Indonesia when she spotted something she’s never been able to shake: “cows living on piles of plastic water bottles.”

“Message in a Bottle” artwork made by Bay Area students

Eva headed back to the states intent on sparking change. For two hours every morning, Eva walked Baker Beach with her dog Guinness and picked up every piece of garbage she could find. “Soon, I’d be carrying a huge black plastic bag full of trash, like Santa Claus.”

From the get-go, she and her husband, John, taught Will about the consequences of littering. At a very young age he grew fond of sweeping debris away from the storm drains along their block. Eva recently learned Will could adopt a drain through Adopt-a-Drain San Francisco. “They gave him some training, a vest, and tools. I was delighted to see Will empowered, almost like having a policeman or fireman outfit on. He feels like a pro when he’s out there.”

Eva also gives presentations in Bay Area schools to ensure many more children feel capable of making a difference. During a visit to a largely Spanish-speaking school, a teacher translated as Eva discussed the dangers plastic straws pose to local wildlife. Afterward, Eva chatted with a student whose dad was a restaurant worker, and “you could see a light bulb go off: ‘oh, I could talk to my dad and maybe… they won’t use those at his restaurant!”

William sweeps San Francisco City Hall!

A few weeks ago, as part of her work with Surfrider San Francisco, Eva joined colleagues and volunteers to host Message in a Bottle, a 3-day event featuring 1,000 pieces of art (made partly or wholly from trash!) created by Bay Area students. The works were displayed in the Venue at the Palace of Fine Arts, where, Eva admits: “my favorite part was actually seeing tourists” wander in. “I watched them go: ‘I think this show’s about the ocean. Oh, no, it’s about plastic pollution.’ Tourists use plastic to-go cups, lots of plastic, not thinking about it. So, to hear that narrative change – we really met our mission.”

Needless to say, Eva and William have a little trouble relaxing with so much trash pollution to tackle. When Will received a commendation from a San Francisco Supervisor for his work around “Drain Robot,” he saw his prize — a broom — as a tool. Eva says it was “pretty hilarious” to watch her 5-year-old suddenly take his broom, “and, this is a real symbol of what Will does, he went around city hall sweeping up the floors.

But mother and son have much in common. Describing her walks down Baker Beach, Eva confesses: “I would love to say my brain quiets down, but actually it’s when sparks go off – the need for revolution and change occurs.”