Cleaning Up Our Coast

Beach cleanups are vital to the health of our coastal environment, and every year on Coastal Cleanup Day, more than 60,000 volunteers throughout California spend part of a September weekend picking up more than 300,000 tons of trash from beaches and inland waterways before the rainy season begins. This year is no different. The 2012 California Coastal Cleanup Day (CCCD) is on Saturday, September 15, and Heal the Bay will once again play an integral role in coordinating this annual event. With California Coastal Cleanup Day less than a month away, we sat down with Cara Young, Heal the Bay’s CCCD coordinator to chat about this year’s event, Heal the Bay’s role and how you can get involved.

LA Stormwater: What is California Coastal Cleanup Day? When did it start and what is Heal the Bay’s role?

Cara Young: Coastal Cleanup Day began in 1985 as a way to combat the increasing marine debris along our shorelines. It is now the largest volunteer day on the planet! The Ocean Conservancy is the leading agency responsible for the international Coastal Cleanup Day effort, while The California Coastal Commission leads the statewide effort in California.

Heal the Bay coordinates the Los Angeles Coastal Cleanup Day, which includes approximately 60 cleanup sites throughout LA County. This year will be Heal the Bay’s 23rd year serving as LA’s Coastal Cleanup Day Coordinator. Coastal Cleanup Day is not only an opportunity to clean up our beaches and waterways but is an excellent way to educate the public on where trash comes from and where it ends up, encouraging environmental and community stewardship.

LA Stormwater: Are cleanups just for folks who live along the coast? Can people who live inland participate? If so, are there sites inland?

Cara Young: Coastal Cleanup Day is definitely NOT just for residents who live along the coast! There are many inland sites that require cleanup. Since the debris that ends up in the ocean usually comes from inland sources, it is as important to clean up inland as it is on the beaches. Inland sites will be available and volunteers are highly encouraged to choose a site closest to where they live, even walking or biking to the site to cut down on transportation pollution. All sites in LA County are posted on Heal the Bay’s Coastal Cleanup Day web page.

LA Stormwater: How much trash is generally collected in LA on California Coastal Cleanup Day?

Cara Young: The amount of trash collected in LA County varies from year to year. It can range between 45,000 pounds and 140,000 pounds depending on the number of volunteers participating, the specific sites chosen that year and the intensity of the effort put out by the volunteers. It is important to clarify that the amount of trash collected is not necessarily an indicator of less trash. The need for trash pickup in LA County is always there, so regardless of the amount of trash we are able to remove, it is just as important to get as many volunteers out for this great event. After all, a big part of Coastal Cleanup Day is to help educate the public about litter and to learn what we each can do about it once the event is over. 

LA Stormwater: What types of trash are most common? What are the most unusual items found?

Cara Young: The most common types of trash include cigarettes, food wrappers and Styrofoam containers, caps and lids for containers, plastic bags, straws and stirrers, mostly single use disposable materials that are littered. Each year some very unusual items are found, with a prize being awarded to the person finding the most bizarre piece of trash. The most unusual item found in 2010 was a set of two, six-foot wagon wheels. Other strange items discovered in past years include bridal gowns, birdcages, jewelry, a World War II gas mask, and a propeller. You never know what you will find on Coastal Cleanup Day!

LA Stormwater: In prior years, Heal the Bay has identified certain LA sites as “Code RED” clean-up sites. What makes a site “Code RED”?

Cara Young: Code Red sites are cleanup locations that need more TLC from volunteers. We often direct large groups to these because the amount of trash and the intensity of the work needed is more than we can provide in three hours. The goal is for people to give help where help is really needed and to realize that the devastation is happening in their own backyards, often close to where they live and play.

LA Stormwater: How can folks get involved?

Cara Young: People can sign up to volunteer online at Heal the Bay’s website. Liability waivers to participate can be printed from the website. Come and join us as we clean up our beautiful California coast this year!

Photos courtesy of Heal the Bay.

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