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Volunteers By The Thousands Turn Out For Cleanup Day

Tens of thousands of Californians turned out Saturday, Sept. 23 to take part in the 39th Annual California Coastal Cleanup Day, the state’s largest annual volunteer event, organized by the California Coastal Commission. Volunteers scoured over 700 cleanup sites, removing hundreds of thousands of pounds of trash that could potentially become marine debris once the winter rains arrive and wash trash out from the coast.

Volunteers gathered hundreds of tons of trash at beaches, shorelines, and inland waterways, cleaning up at locations in virtually all of California’s 58 counties. Cleanups took place up and down the coast, from the Oregon to Mexico border, and as far inland as Lake Tahoe. California’s event is part of the International Coastal Cleanup, the world’s largest volunteer event dedicated to the marine environment, which is organized by the Ocean Conservancy.

With 50 percent of the cleanup sites reporting, the statewide count stands at 25,570 volunteers. Those volunteers picked up 126,605 pounds of trash and an additional 7,041 pounds of recyclable materials, for a total of 133,645 pounds or 67 tons.

“For generations, Californians have demonstrated their love and dedication to our coast during Coastal Cleanup Day,” said Commission Executive Director Dr. Kate Huckelbridge. “The Coastal Commission is incredibly proud to provide an outlet for all Californians to express that dedication each year. We see how devoting only a few hours on a Saturday in September translates into a year-round commitment to the protection and preservation of our coast. We are grateful to all who share in this goal.”

Volunteers not only removed trash from the environment, but they also kept track of all the items they removed as part of one of the world’s largest and longest-running community science projects. This data, and the trends it displays over the many years in which it has been collected, has revealed a great deal about the extent and nature of the marine debris problem over time, and has provided California with crucial information needed to address the sources of the problem. Based on past cleanup data, 75 percent of the debris that volunteers removed Saturday was composed of plastic, a material that never completely biodegrades and has numerous harmful consequences in the environment. Plastic debris can kill wildlife, leach toxic chemicals into the environment, and even introduce them into the food chain. The data has also shown that up to 80 percent of the trash on the California coast originates on land, so volunteers across the state helped prevent enormous amounts of trash from ever reaching the ocean, no matter where they participated.

Everyday debris and plastic items weren’t the only things found on Coastal Cleanup Day. Volunteers also picked up a number of “unusual” items during this year’s cleanup.

Coastal California: A volunteer in Marin County found a card associated with someone from North Carolina’s cremated remains, perhaps a result of someone’s wish for their ashes to be spread off the California Coast.

Inland California: A volunteer in Yolo County found a 5.25” floppy disk. None of the young people at the cleanup could identify what it was.

The volunteers who found these items, chosen as the winners in the ‘most unusual’ category each win a $100 prize from the Coastal Commission.

In addition to in-person cleanups, the Coastal Commission continues to encourage volunteers to run self-guided cleanups throughout neighborhoods across the state. The self-guided cleanups serve the same purpose as the Cleanup Day events that took place Saturday: to prevent trash from ever having the opportunity to reach the coast. Self-guided cleanups throughout California help to stop trash where it starts, which is primarily within urban areas most prone to stormwater runoff. To date, 2,371 Californians have conducted a neighborhood cleanup, removing 8,117 pounds of trash during 537 cleanups.

Coastal Cleanup Day could not happen without the support of public and corporate partners. Sponsors help to fund the event and often provide additional benefits. Lead sponsor Crystal Geyser Natural Alpine Spring Water donates water for volunteers. Long-time sponsor Oracle provides volunteer support, as does relatively new sponsor Kokolu, which also created a custom-printed tote bag made from recycled plastic bottles to support the cleanup. GreenPolly provides trash bags for the event. Along with 60-plus non-profit and local government organizations that help organize and run the cleanups around the state, the program’s strong team of partners helped make the 2023 cleanup another huge success.