A sheet, plastic milk carton, an automobile bumper, hats, flip flops, Playstation parts – even a plastic dolphin sculpture – mounded into a total of 52 pounds of trash retrieved in and around San Simeon Cove/Hearst State Beach by about 27 volunteers in about four hours Saturday during Coastal Cleanup Day.
In all, 1,230 volunteers removed 5, 663 pounds of trash at 36 San Luis Obispo County locations, according to the event’s sponsor ECOSLO. On the North Coast, volunteers scoured six locations from the elephant seal viewing area at Piedras Blancas to Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.
With P.J. Webb, I co-captained the San Simeon location, along with the help of Carolyn Skinder, Southern Regional Program Coordinator at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary’s southern office, and that handsome man simply known as Spouse (my husband).
At a time when our 24-hour news cycle broadcasts little joy, the enthusiasm of the volunteers who came to do nothing but pick up other people’s trash and garbage cast a certain kind of light to blot out all the negative headlines of the day. At our location, most volunteers were Cambrians — some partnered with a friend or family — and some represented local groups.
Visitors from Livermore, San Jose, Atascadero and Paso Robles also joined in the effort to keep our waste from slipping into the Pacific Ocean.
Like the recent local Squibbing Day, Cambria’s own community clean-up effort, it’s inspiring to see citizens join in an effort to keep our environment trash-free — especially from the trash left behind by others.
The blend of volunteers ranged the generations. We counted 19 adults and eight youths at our location. Some of the youths included Coast Union High School cheerleaders, the president of a high school ecology club and cyclists from Cambria Bike Kitchen. And literally rolling into our collection area was a cyclist from Slabtown Rollers who delivered already sorted recyclable and non-recyclable trash as he made his way along Highway 1 picking up debris.
Two young men pulled into the parking lot with a bag filled with beverage containers. “We found this buried under the sand around ‘Mermaid Beach,” they explained.
They also successfully wrestled with and brought up from the beach a weighty plastic bin probably used to hold fish from a fishing vessel.
The passion to halt the movement of trash to the sea was exemplified by a pair of sisters, Jo Lynn Romero and Charthiel Estner, who took to cleaning trash along the roadway and found a large chunk of what we determined to possibly be plastic construction material that weighed about 18 pounds. It took the two of them summoning all their inner muscle to heave the ungainly chunk of trash up the roadside incline to our collection site. In all, the two of them brought in the largest weight of trash, 23 pounds.
Statewide, 53,073 volunteers participated in Coastal Cleanup Day, and picked up 698,931 pounds of trash and an additional 35,674 pounds of recyclable materials for a total of 734,606 pounds or 367 tons, according to a news release by the statewide sponsors of the event, California Coastal Commission, California State Parks Foundation and Ocean Conservancy.
“The Coastal Commission continues to highlight the damage that trash, especially single-use disposable plastics, can cause to California’s wildlife, economy, and even human health,” the release said.
According to past cleanup data, 75 percent of the debris that volunteers removed was composed of plastic, a material that never completely biodegrades and has numerous harmful consequences in the environment. Plastic debris can kill wildlife, leach toxins into the environment and even introduce them into the food chain. Since up to 80 percent of the trash on the California coast originates on land, volunteers across the state helped prevent enormous amounts of trash from ever reaching the ocean, “no matter where they participated,” noted the news release.
Locally, the most notable part of the day was what wasn’t found in overwhelming numbers — single-use plastic bags.
“Plastic bags were ubiquitous in the past. It’s good to see so few now,” Webb said.