Beach Cleanups Exposed: The Ocean Conservancy’s 25 Year Report on Marine Debris

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Coastkeeper loves beach cleanups.

coastal-cleanup-day-san-diegoWe host at the very least two beach cleanups a month.  Aside from the obvious—we want beautiful beaches and healthy oceans—why?  So much more rides on these cleanups.  Ocean Conservancy just published a report titled “Talking Trash: 25 Years of Action for the Ocean,” which provides a 25-year look at the trash and other marine debris found on beaches and in the water. It is intended to educate the public and leaders in government and industry to make strides in preventing marine debris from choking our ocean and waterways.  Thus giving a broader perspective on why cleanups can influence political, industrial and social change.

The report is based on data collected over the past 25 years from Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup Day (ICC).  ICC is the largest volunteer effort for the ocean, bringing out hundreds of thousands of volunteers from around the world to remove millions of pounds of trash and debris from beaches, lakes and waterways while recording every piece of trash that is found.  Alongside monthly, sponsored, and beach cleanups in a box, Coastkeeper works with I Love a Clean San Diego to host Coastal Cleanup Day in San Diego County, which serves as a significant source of statistical information for this global effort, as well as a wonderful event to spread awareness and remove pollution in San Diego.  The data from the cleanups is collected and analyzed to give insight into the global problem of marine debris.  
What sets these cleanups apart is the strictly regimented counting of each item that is collected from the cleanup.  Each volunteer is trained and made responsible for recording exactly what is found.  This is the crucial step to why the cleanups are a necessary element of ocean pollution prevention.

Because of the data collected at the annual Coastal Cleanup Day and Coastkeeper’s monthly cleanups, we have a clear idea of the specific items and products affecting our oceans and waterways, thus facilitating creation of preventative programs and strategies.  This information helps us educate our government and community, so we can work together on the solutions.  Ocean Conservancy and Coastkeeper use similar data collecting procedures; Coastkeeper keeps track of every piece of trash collected at any of our beach cleanups by distributing data cards or itemized lists for volunteers to keep a tally of apprehended items.  The 25-year report recorded that over the past 25 years, 9 million volunteers in 150+ countries picked up 166 million pieces of trash across just under 300,000 miles; which provides the first ever analysis of long-term trends.

Read the beach cleanup report.  And get involved to make a difference in San Diego and join us for a beach cleanup.

Published in Marine Debris

Whole Food Donates for Clean Beaches

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

If you’ve ever considered stocking up on supplies, do it APRIL 6 at the Hillcrest Whole Foods. You never know when disaster might strike!  It’s best to stay safe with tons of vitamins and canned organic soups stocked deep in your cupboards.

Why April 6?  Well, Whole Foods is making good on their commitment to their community and the environment by donating 5% of their sales to Coastal Cleanup Day .

Coastal Cleanup Day is an event held every September that unites more than 10,000 San Diego volunteers at 85 coastal and inland sites to round trash across the county.  In 2010 over 148,000 lbs of garbage was intercepted before hitting the ocean. San Diego Coastkeeper and I Love A Clean San Diego , two leading San Diego environmental nonprofits, in partnership with the California Coastal Commission, organize this massive grassroots event to engage individual communities in the protection of their local “backyard;” whether that be a beach, a creek, or a street with storm drains that drain to the ocean.

Apparently enough shoppers and employees have expressed concern for San Diego beaches, because Whole Foods reached out to Coastkeeper to get involved.  Then again, Whole Foods is not your average grocery store.  Yes, they are a “chain” business, but what sets them apart is their common commitment to their local community and real concern for the environment.  The market was founded on a set of core values that keeps each store accountable and responsible to their greater, holistic goal of keeping their community healthy.  CCDcleanup2_MeierOne of the ways they show how they care is by reaching out to local organizations and giving a minimum of 5% of their profits every year to support their neighborly non-profits.  Whole Foods has been donating to the Coastal Cleanup Day for the past 5 years, allowing the event to have a greater impact by preventing marine debris from entering our waterways.

In supporting Whole Foods on Wednesday April 6, you will really be investing in a cleaner San Diego.  When you buy your Earth Day party favors or Coachella snacks, your money will go further than the expiration dates on your perishables.  It will be supporting the beaches that you love to frolic on and the sea you dip in.  Give back with Whole Foods this month and help make the 2011 Coastal Cleanup Day a WHOLE lot better!

Published in Marine Debris

Stormwater Management to Community Cleanups: Keeping San Diego Clean

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

trash-inland-cleanupOnce litter gets out into the environment, it starts to move. It’s the Great Trash Migration. The ultimate destination is our ocean, but the trash starts many miles inland, and through a series of encounters with wind, rain and creeks, it sneaks its way into the Pacific.

According to City Councilman Todd Gloria, the City of San Diego removed 6,500 tons of debris with the street sweeping program last year. Even more astounding, cleanup efforts removed more than 38 tons from Chollas Creek alone.

But efforts by the cities aren’t enough to keep this trash from impacting more than 275 marine species, especially when estimates show that more than 80% of marine debris starts on land.

About 100 people gathered at San Diego Coastkeeper’s office in Liberty Station last night for its Signs of the Tide public forum exploring The Great Trash Migration. Moderated by Councilman Gloria, the evening included presentations from Coastkeeper’s Education and Marine Debris Manager Alicia Glassco; VP of EDCO Waste and Recycling Jeff Ritchie; Chief Deputy Director of the State Water Resources Control Board Jon Bishop; and Friend of Olivia Canyon Organizer John Hanley.

Alicia poured through data from cleanups she helps organize with partner organizations, noting that inland cleanup sites tend to see major trash like furniture, car hoods, illegal dumping and transient camps. And while the pounds of debris per volunteer that are removed on the beach tend to be much smaller, in 2010 alone volunteers removed 25,000 pieces of Styrofoam. These small pieces of litter are collectively very dangerous because marine animals mistake them for food and often end up dying from starvation.

inland-trash-san-diegoJeff shared that in San Diego County, the average person produces over one ton of trash each year.  His historical perspective of the trash pickup and management system showed how it has changed over the years. Initially, it was just one truck that picked up all trash and delivered it to the landfill, but after regulations changed in the ‘90s, the system started picking up trash in three categories: trash, co-mingled recyclables and green waste. Of the co-mingled items, most material goes overseas to the Pacific Rim (except for glass and aluminum) because there’s a healthy market that pays a high price for those materials.

Jon highlighted regulations for stormwater management in San Francisco and Los Angeles that have paved the way for statewide regulations. According to his data, its commercial and industrial industries that cause 80% of the trash entering our storm drains. And it’s the plastic pellet—the nurdle—that most keeps him up at night. While nurdles are only manufactured in Texas and the majority of the problem areas are industrial locations in areas like Orange County and Los Angeles, he said they’ve found nurdles on every beach from Mexico to Oregon.

What’s the solution to the Great Trash Migration?

John says, “It really has to do with working together and forming partnerships to keep our canyons clean.”

To join our efforts, become a member now or check our events calendar for the next cleanup.

Published in Marine Debris

The Great Trash Migration

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper


At any moment, millions of individuals are migrating. Literally tons of animal mass moving from the ocean depths to the surface (zooplankton’s diel vertical migration), from the North Pole to Baja California and back (Gray whales make the longest animal migration), from Arizona to San Diego each summer (We all know about the influx of “zonies” on our local beaches). These Great Migrations pale in comparison to the daily movement of common pieces of litter from human hands to the Pacific Ocean.

Coastkeeper’s March 2011 Signs of the Tide forum focuses on this Great Trash Migration, since the larger problem of trash in the oceans is coming from inland areas. The event’s speakers come from the State Water Board to talk about storm water management of trash, EDCO Disposal to talk about where trash comes from and where it goes, and the Friends of 47th St. Canyon to talk about how community members are cleaning up trash in local canyons. San Diego City Council Member Todd Gloria will moderate the event, taking questions from the audience and guiding the conversation.

My contribution to the topic discusses San Diego Coastkeeper’s beach cleanup data and our Coastal Cleanup Day data. The information our volunteers collect at cleanups tells us a lot about what’s escaping into our environment – and where. There is a big difference in the trash problems facing beaches and those in more inland areas. For example, our beaches see higher numbers of certain single-use plastic pollutants, such as cigarette butts and small pieces of Styrofoam, while our inland cleanup sites see more of the larger items associated with illegal dumping. Either way, it all flows downstream and threatens marine life. Anything we can do on land to stop the Great Migration of trash to the ocean, from cleanups to policy change to reusable water bottles, will help our ocean environment.

To learn more about the Great Trash Migration, attend the Signs of the Tide event. To help stop the Great Trash Migration, become a Coastkeeper member.



Published in Marine Debris

Shocker! Cleanup data shows plastic still plagues San Diego beaches.

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

One of the best things about San Diego Coastkeeper’s beach cleanup program is the collection of data by our volunteers. While some volunteers find the idea of tallying up hundreds of cigarette butts or pieces of Styrofoam daunting, the information gathered from data cards is an essential part of communicating about the trash problem(s) on our local beaches.

cardiff-2009-021-sThe most comprehensive data set we have is from our twice-monthly Saturday cleanups that we facilitate in partnership with the San Diego Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation since 2003. We analyze the totals from beach to beach and year to year, and also look at the total numbers of certain items that are common nuisances on our beaches (like those pesky plastic bags!). We started collecting tally cards in 2007 and since then have seen some shocking trends in our beach cleanup data . Here are the highlights from the 2010 data overview:

· Six of the top ten items collected at our cleanups are composed of plastic. This is a concern because plastic pollution does not biodegrade in the ocean environment and can persist for many years.
· All of the plastic items counted have increased in number since 2007.
· Styrofoam pieces have doubled in number from 12,000 pieces in 2009 to 25,000 pieces in 2010.
· Volunteers collected over 42,000 butts from beaches and boardwalks in 2010. It sounds like a lot, but it’s actually a decrease from 2009 and halted the increasing trend of the previous three years (hey – some good news!)


All of the work Coastkeeper is doing by coordinating these cleanups will decrease marine debris in the ocean. Join us to volunteer by adding the Beach Cleanup schedule to your calendar, and checking our San Diego Coastkeeper events calendar regularly to find announcements about other cleanups and green events. You can also listen to the experts talk about inland sources of debris at our March 2011 Signs of the Tide community forum. Or just renew your Coastkeeper membership and let us do the dirty work with the volunteers. No matter what, our everyday choices make a difference with marine debris.

Published in Marine Debris

Ten things I hate about plastics

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

dsc00072-sAbout a year ago, I started noting everyday products in my life that have some amount of plastic in them. Do you know what I realized? It’s in virtually everything. For practical purposes, I can justify the need for plastic in some products, like this keyboard I’m using to type or the brake levels on my commute bicycle, but it’s the single-use, made-for-convenience plastic items that get thrown away (or hopefully recycled) that cause a little painful feeling deep in my soul. Each day I work at allowing less of those items to creep into my daily life and try to help those around make similar choices. And in that time, I have also developed this list of the top ten reasons I hate plastics.

10. They are expensive.
They may seem cheaper at first, but over time, the cost of disposable plastic items adds up. How many Zip-Loc bags do you use in a year when reusing one food container could work? Or how many bottles of water would you buy versus one reusable stainless steel container?

9. They make nature ugly.
I will never forget swimming in the La Cove last year when my swimming partner and I couldn’t tell if the thing floating around us was a plastic bag or a jellyfish. Is trash so common now that we accept it as a part of our outdoor reality?

8. It’s everywhere.
At Christmas this year, every single item my nieces and nephew unwrapped had plastic in it. What happened to the years of wood construction sets and glass marbles? Plastics have infiltrated everything—food containers, cigarettes, clothing, housewares, beauty products, cars, etc.

7. Many are single-use.

Shoppers worldwide use 500 billion to one trillion plastic bags per year. That’s about a million bags every minute across the globe. Why?

6. They make us lazy.
That’s why. Why bring your own reusable shopping bag when the store will give you a free disposable one? Why struggle with remembering to wash and bring home your lunch container, when you can just throw away the plastic baggie?

5. They are made of oil.
Our dependence on oil is an everyday conversation, but it goes beyond the gas we put in our cars.

4. More than 60% of marine debris is plastic.

3. Birds and fish think they are food.
Have you seen Chris Jordan’s photos showcasing the massive amounts of plastics inside the stomachs of dead birds?

2. They do not biodegrade.
Plastics break down in a process called photodegrading, which means they simply break apart into ever-smaller pieces, eventually forming “plastic dust.” Through this process they release chemicals and toxins, which have many harmful effects to the ocean.

1. Because we have other choices.
Do you make them

Published in Marine Debris

Hardcore Bridgepoint Heroes brave rain to clean up Mission Beach

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Photo credit Allen Beauchamp

I don’t know what you define as “hardcore,” but I think showing up for an outdoor volunteer event during a rare San Diego downpour fits the bill. The team from Bridgepoint Education did just that for a beach cleanup on Oct. 30 in Mission Beach. They showed their enthusiasm for working together and helping their community when participating in the inaugural volunteer event of the Bridgepoint Heroes program. I couldn’t believe so many people braved the weather to show their support for their coworkers, company and ocean–they’re a great team!

Although it rained, it was actually perfect timing to get trash that had washed up onshore after the infamous “first flush,” the first rain event of the season that transports pollutants, litter and debris downstream from our urban neighborhoods. These eager volunteers collected over 2,472 cigarette butts, 780 pieces of plastic, 480 pieces of (wet) paper, 280 plastic food wrappers and 245 plastic lids, cups and straws (Collecting data in the rain = HARDCORE!). In total, over 115 volunteers collected 370 pounds of trash and plastic pollution from the sidewalks, alleyways, beaches, and parking lots around Belmont Park. They even found some unusual items including a boat ladder, a bra, a tiki torch can and a toy sword (from Halloween revelers, perhaps?).

The volunteers were well rewarded for their efforts. While the hot coffee station was an extremely popular spot in the chilly weather, volunteers also received an extra layer to keep warm (a Bridgepoint Heroes t-shirt), and they even got some Belmont Park roller coaster passes that were leftover from Coastal Cleanup Day (Riding a roller coaster in the rain = HARDCORE!).

Bridgepoint Education (NYSE: BPI), is a provider of postsecondary education services focused on providing higher access to higher education. This cleanup was part of San Diego Coastkeeper’s sponsored cleanup program. Coastkeeper is proud to have partnered with Bridgepoint and hopes to continue working with other companies like them to bring their employees to an outdoor volunteer opportunity, which helps the San Diego environment. (Giving back to your community = HARDCORE!)

Published in Marine Debris

Confessions of a Momentarily Lapsed Environmentalist

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

I have a confession.

Last week, I drank bottled water from a single-use plastic bottle.

I didn’t mean to, but I was at choir practice, and I was really, really thirsty after all that singing, and we still had an hour of singing left. I forgot to bring my own reusable water bottle, and there was nary a water fountain in sight. The case of bottled water was just sitting there, pleading for parched singers to take one.

I couldn’t help myself….

The water was cool and refreshing, soothing my Beethoven-worn pipes.  Yet as I walked back to take my seat in the rehearsal room, I felt a creeping sense of shame.  How could I face the woman sitting next to me, after we had just had that nice conversation before rehearsal started about how I was so excited to be working for a great organization protecting our coast from pollution and marine debris?  

As I sat down in my seat with a plastic single-use water bottle in my hand, I had to explain myself to the woman sitting next to me.  “You know, I’m really kicking myself for not bringing a reusable water bottle to rehearsal tonight.  I ran out of the office quickly and forgot to grab it.  I just hate using these plastic bottles because they’re so bad for the environment and so many of them end up in a huge garbage patch in the middle of the Pacific Ocean!”

My fellow soprano listened politely and nodded and then opened her score.  She was judging me; I knew it! I promised myself I’d never forget my reusable water bottle again and hoped that I didn’t make too much of a fool of myself.

At the break during this Monday’s rehearsal, I ran into the woman I had sat next to the week before.  To my surprise, she said to me, “Hey, I’ve been trying to cut down on using plastic water bottles since we talked about it last week!”

I was stunned… and then elated.  Here I was, crushed, thinking that I was setting such a bad example.  But what I hadn’t realized is that my momentary lapse in sustainable behavior gave me an opportunity to teach a new friend about the perils of single-use plastics.

So even if we can’t be perfectly sustainable all the time, we can still teach others about why sustainable practices are important.

Published in Marine Debris

A car hood, a toy piano and a pair of antlers?

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper



As co-coordinator of Coastal Cleanup Day in San Diego County, one of my favorite parts of the day is returning to the office to see what interesting items are reported from our data cards.

At this year’s Coastal Cleanup Day, our volunteers came back with some memorable ones that I thought the blog world might enjoy:

•    Car hood – Fiesta Island
•    RV port-a-potty – Borderfield State Park
•    Traffic ticket for an open container – Ocean Beach
•    Baby’s devil costume – Tijuana River at Dairy Mart Rd
•    Hello Kitty children’s piano – City Heights (a young volunteer was very excited to acquire this hand-me down)
•    Antique leather football helmet and a mannequin – National City
•    Newspaper stand – San Diego Bay
•    Fake pair of antlers and a Norwegian passport (if anyone knows Stine Grytten Nærum, please tell her to call me) – Pacific Beach
•    Model rocket fuel – Chula Vista, Salt Creek
•    Bag of drugs (found by a troop of girl scouts) – Imperial Beach, South Bay Wildlife Refuge
•    Christmas Tree (in September) – Lemon Grove, Bakersfield Drainage Ditch
•    Model ship – Southcrest Community Park
•    Styrofoam foot with a sandal on it – Vista, Buena Creek
•    Refrigerator door – Otay Valley River Park
•    And of course, the proverbial kitchen sink – Rolando Park, Zena Canyon

Thankfully, our site captains reported less hazardous and electronic waste than in previous years so maybe this means that the message is getting across about disposing of these materials appropriately (maybe?). While it’s sad to think of all the trash in our environment that needs collecting year after year, at least we can find the humor in the world around us and the interesting waste of us crazy humans.

Published in Marine Debris

Don’t let ACC’s trickery fool you! Plastic bags are bad

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

captionWhy is this year’s plastic bag ban (AB 1998) struggling in its final days in the CA state legislature? It’s hard to argue the fact that 19 billion of these bags are used in California each year, while only five percent of them get recycled and the rest are choking our landfills and waterways or killing wildlife.

But somehow, the plastics industry lobbyists from the ACC (American Chemistry Council, AKA the devil) are using fear tactics and gross overstatements in a new ad campaign that must be costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

They’ve also created a website called Stop the Bag Police that is overflowing with disinformation and a list of businesses that were undoubtedly mislead about the intent and consequences of the bill.

To set the record straight:

  • First, most of the plastic bag manufacturers are based in Texas, not California.
  • Second, plastic distributors and companies in California sell a diverse portfolio of items with plastic bags making up a small portion of their overall sales (no lost jobs!).
  • Third, the ACC should have been working with their industry factories five years ago when we first met with them to tell them about the harms plastic bags create for our environment, knowing that this change for sustainability was coming down the line.
  • Fourth, you want green jobs?  How about a boom for the 19 reusable bag companies based in California?

This bill is a win-win with a LONG list of supporters (download a list of supporters in San Diego ), and the legislators who are behind it should be applauded for protecting our collective future.

There are about 4 days left to contact your senator to vote Yes on AB 1998. DO IT.

Published in Marine Debris