California Coastal Cleanup Day—an annual event where thousands of volunteers spend the third Saturday of September picking up trash near the ocean—has turned into a monthlong event in Orange County, thanks to social distancing.
In a normal year, organized volunteers gather in groups throughout the state on one day to pick up as much trash as they can, to protect the ocean and the beaches. But this year, volunteers are picking up litter on their own schedules, and rather than dropping it off at centralized sites, they’re putting the trash in their own bins.
Eben Schwartz, director of Coastal Cleanup Day, told The Epoch Times that the goal of the shift was to build momentum throughout the month and have as large of an impact as possible while allowing for social distancing among volunteers.
“In a typical year, Orange County sees anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 volunteers for the cleanup. I am hoping that we’re able to surpass that [this year],” Schwartz said via email.
Cristina Robinson, education coordinator at Orange County Coastkeeper, told The Epoch Times that her group is seeing many cleanup efforts this year in Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, and Fountain Valley.
Robinson said in an email that her group is expecting over 1,000 volunteers to help out in Orange County alone. Additional groups will be participating in both Orange and Los Angeles counties as well, she said.
“Last year, we had a total of 4,920 volunteers throughout Orange County for 2019 OC Coastal Cleanup Day,” Robinson said, adding that 25,681 pounds of trash were removed on that one day alone.
This year, due to the pandemic, the group’s goal is to pick up 5,000 pounds of trash throughout the county.
Robinson said her group encourages participants to download the Clean Swell app to their mobile devices to record their cleanup locations and the trash they remove.
The app allows users around the world to report the amount of trash they’ve collected and instantaneously upload the information to the Ocean Conservancy’s global ocean trash database.
“We know there will probably be cleanups that go unrecorded, as well as pounds of trash will not be reflected as accurately as possible since most do not have portable scales to weigh trash,” she said. But the goal remains to be as accurate as possible.
Schwartz said the amount of garbage removed from the state’s beaches will be “hard to estimate this year.”
“Typically we pick up around 1 million pounds of trash on Coastal Cleanup Day, but that is when we have access to dumpsters and equipment that we will not have this year,” he said.
“We are asking volunteers to pick up only what they can fit into their trash bin at home. So I anticipate that the total amount of trash will be down quite a bit from previous years.”
Schwartz’s site also encourages participants to report their cleanups by using the Clean Swell app to log the trash they pick up, track the total distance they’ve cleaned, and help meet long-term pollution goals.
“Many of our local coordinators use Clean Swell or other data collection apps to keep track of what they’re picking up throughout the year. The data is a vital tool in helping us address the long-term sources and impacts of plastic pollution,” Schwartz said.
Trash picked up during the September event can also be entered into a “Most Unusual Item” contest, where the participant who finds the strangest piece of trash gets a chance to win a prize package.
“Our local coordinator, Orange County Coastkeeper, has a great plan in place to encourage virtual cleanups, including weekly prizes and incentives,” Schwartz said.
OC Coastkeeper is holding its own weekly scavenger hunt to make the effort more enjoyable for volunteers.
“We are doing a ‘Trash Scavenger Hunt’ every Saturday on social media, and people can participate by posting their trash photos to social media with the hashtag #coastkeeperclean or they can email their entry to firstname.lastname@example.org,” Robinson said.
Winners are announced every Monday, she said, adding “we have lots of fun prizes” to give away.
Robinson said the effort to fight ocean pollution begins in a person’s own backyard, and the event’s website encourages volunteers to clean their neighborhoods, local parks, streets, and storm drains to prevent the trash from ending up in the ocean.
“It is highly encouraged to clean up your own neighborhood, since 80 percent of trash seen at beaches gets there via trash in our neighborhoods being translocated through our storm drain system,” Robinson said.
“No matter how small, every piece of trash picked up helps!”
The first California Coastal Cleanup Day was held in 1985. The 1993 gathering made the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest garbage collection effort ever organized, with over 50,000 volunteers, according to the event’s website.