Coastal Cleanup 2014: Taming Beach Trash

The Crab Cove Visitor Center staff and volunteers visited the "Washed Ashore" exhibit at the San Francisco Zoo.
The Crab Cove Visitor Center staff and volunteers visited the "Washed Ashore" exhibit at the San Francisco Zoo. The whale skeleton was made from plastic bottles and debris. (Sharol Nelson-Embry)

Walk along a beach, almost any beach in the world, and you’ll find evidence of our addiction to convenience: plastic in its many, varied forms litters our shorelines and circles endlessly in the deep sea in one of the five “gyres” driven by ocean currents. Depressing as this may be, people are taking action to stem the tide of this trash and you can, too! One way is to participate in the largest volunteer event on the planet on Saturday, September 20 in the annual Coastal Cleanup, a worldwide effort to spend the morning cleaning trash off our local beaches and waterways and collecting data about the trash for researchers.

“In 2013, over 58,000 volunteers removed almost 750,000 pounds of trash and recyclables from California's beaches, lakes, and waterways,” notes the California Coastal Commission’s website. In fact, at last year’s cleanup, according to the 2014 Ocean Trash index, 648,015 volunteers around the world (for perspective, San Francisco has over 800,000 residents) cleaned 12,914 miles of shorelines and waterways and made a dent in 2013 by collecting 12,329,332 pounds of global trash, equivalent in weight to 823 male African elephants.

The Top 10 Items included:

#1 cigarette butts: 2,043,470

#3 Plastic beverage bottles: 940,170

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#6 Plastic grocery bags: 441,493

They also collected 1,034,667 pieces of tiny, toxic plastic pieces and enough fishing line to go up and over Mount Everest five times.

These musical jellies were made from plastic trash collected off the beach, part of the "Washed Ashore" exhibit.
These musical jellies were made from plastic trash collected off the beach, part of the "Washed Ashore" exhibit. (Sharol Nelson-Embry)

 

 

You don’t have to live near the ocean to participate in the Coastal Cleanup. We all live in a watershed with waterways leading to the bay, ocean, a lake or other body of water. You can cleanup shoreline areas or streets and parks where you live to keep trash from entering natural areas and harming wildlife. Visit the Coastal Cleanup website to find a cleanup near you and register to help.

California is also on the verge of passing a ban on single-use plastic bags, another way to reduce the amount of plastic in the environment. Governor Brown has until September 30 to sign the legislation into law. It’s a good thing, too, since the statistics on single-use plastic bags are sobering. According to an estimate by Californians Against Waste less than 5% of them are recycled each year and roughly 50% are reported as landfill. This leaves about 45% of them unaccounted for and likely trashing up our streets, waterways and oceans. With Californians estimated to use 10-12 billion plastic bags per year, that’s a lot of unnecessary plastic trash. Many California cities and municipalities already have enacted a “bag ban” – a list is available on the California Recycles website. San Francisco led the way with a 2007 ban on plastic bags. If the bill is signed into law, California will be the first state to outlaw single-use plastic bags.

Representing the Pacific Gyre, the suspended ceiling of plastic trash floats over the heads of viewers at "Washed Ashore."
Representing the Pacific Gyre, the suspended ceiling of plastic trash floats over the heads of viewers at "Washed Ashore." (Sharol Nelson-Embry)

The importance of reducing plastic waste and cleaning up shorelines is on display at the “Washed Ashore” exhibit at the San Francisco Zoo. It closes on September 21, so you’ll have to hurry if you want to catch it. For the exhibit, volunteers in Oregon have collected over 11 tons of beach debris over the last four years to create these unique works of art, some with musical elements you can play.

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And check out this KQED article, “Washed Ashore”, from its opening at the zoo back in May. You might also enjoy a musical interlude with Mr. Eco, an environmental rapper that posts videos encouraging people to pick up litter and use less plastic. So join forces with others on September 20 or just carry a litter pick-up bag with you on any walk around town or in the park. As this year’s Coastal Cleanup slogan says, “Let’s make trash extinct!

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