People at a beach cleanup facing the ocean

California Coastal Cleanup Day

While the California Coastal Commission did not run beach cleanups until 1985, efforts to keep our beaches free from plastics and other debris had been underway in California for quite some time. Beginning in the mid-1970s, the Arcata Recycling Center, under the leadership of Wes Chesbro (who has since served a long career in the California State Legislature), began running beach cleanups in search of recyclable material. The cleanup were led by Sidney Dominitz, who went on to become a long-time activist with the Northcoast Environmental Center and a passionate beach cleanup leader until his death on September 12, 2015. There were doubtless other local cleanup efforts underway in other parts of the state during this time as well, but nothing on a statewide scale.

California Coastal Cleanup Day was first organized by the Coastal Commission, but the idea of a statewide cleanup event did not come from California. In 1984, Oregon resident Judy Neilson had grown concerned over the amount of plastic debris she saw littering the Oregon coast. In October of that year, Judy organized the first statewide beach cleanup event, calling it the "Plague of Plastics." California watched, admired, and in 1985, emulated Judy's efforts with its first statewide Coastal Cleanup Day.

Close to 2,500 Californians joined in the initial Cleanup, and the program has been growing by leaps and bounds ever since. In 1986, The Ocean Conservancy (then known as the Center for Marine Conservation) ran its first Coastal Cleanup in Texas, and in later years became the coordinating agency for the International Coastal Cleanup, helping to spread the concept to nations around the world.

In 1993, California Coastal Cleanup Day was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the “largest garbage collection” ever organized, with 50,405 volunteers. Since then, the reach of Coastal Cleanup Day has steadily spread inland. Most of the marine debris that we find on our beaches actually starts as urban trash or street litter, so this continuing effort to “stop trash where it starts” has actually increased the amount of trash picked up per person each year. (See Figures below)

Coastal Cleanup Day is about much more than picking up trash. It’s a chance for Californians to join people around the world in expressing their respect for our oceans and waterways. It’s an opportunity for the community to demonstrate its desire for clean water and healthy marine life. And it’s a moment to share with one’s neighbors, family, and friends, coming together to accomplish something vital and worthy on behalf of our environment.

#1. Cigarettes/Cigarette Filters 7,535,411 36.96%
#2. Food Wrappers/Containers 2,193,018 10.76%
#3. Caps/Lids 1,861,923 9.13%
#4. Bags (paper and plastic) 1,572,241 7.71%
#5. Cups/Plates/Utensils 1,113,129 5.46%
#6. Straws/Stirrers 863,481 4.24%
#7. Glass Beverage Bottles 679,709 3.33%
#8. Plastic Beverage Bottles 554,825 2.72%
#9. Beverage Cans 496,117 2.43%
#10. Construction Material 367,729 1.80%

Staff Report to the California Coastal Commission on Marine Debris and Coastal Cleanup Day, July 11, 2018:

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