What is California Coastal Cleanup Day?

Mary McMahon

California Coastal Cleanup Day is an event organized by the California Coastal Commission, andusually coincides with International Coastal Cleanup Day. During Coastal Cleanup Day, tens of thousands of volunteers collect trash and debris from beaches all over California to improve the state's natural beauty and the health of its marine environment. In addition to being a vital service to the environment, it is also the largest garbage collection, according to the Guinness Book of World Records in 1993. Anyone can volunteer to lead or participate in a cleanup crew on Coastal Cleanup Day.

Coastal Cleanup Day is held on the third Saturday in September.
Coastal Cleanup Day is held on the third Saturday in September.

The third Saturday of September is always set aside for Coastal Cleanup Day, which occurs from 9:00 AM to noon. 700 specific sites around California are designated, and people can register with the Coastal Commission to lead a cleanup team at a site, or to be part of a team. The Coastal Commission provides bags, gloves, and tools to over 50,000 volunteers every year, collecting 10 million pounds of debris in the first 22 years of the program, which began in 1985. Volunteers roam the beaches picking up litter, which is later analyzed by the Coastal Commission in the interest of keeping records on what kinds of garbage are found in which specific spots.

California's Pacific Coast beaches are cleaned up by volunteers on California Coastal Cleanup Day.
California's Pacific Coast beaches are cleaned up by volunteers on California Coastal Cleanup Day.

Many volunteers join Coastal Cleanup Day because litter makes beaches ugly and dangerous. People can injure themselves on broken glass and wire, or experience property damage due to wire snagging their engines, or metal and glass debris tearing up fishing nets. For these reasons alone, Coastal Cleanup Day is an important event, and it saves the government millions of dollars in cleanup costs. However, it is also vital to the marine environment, because garbage damages the delicate ecosystem of the ocean.

Ocean animals may find themselves entangled in garbage or choking on things that they have swallowed. A great deal of garbage also carries pollution and toxins which hurt the ocean. Because the ocean is so large and imperfectly understood, the true impact of garbage may not even be known. Coastal Cleanup Day is also part of a larger program to educate people about litter and disposing safely of hazardous substances, because a great deal of garbage ends up on the ocean, even if it isn't thrown onto the beach.

Volunteers for Coastal Cleanup Day can be of all ages and levels of ability. The program is part of the Adopt A Beach Program, another Coastal Commission initiative, and many participants in Adopt a Beach clean up their beaches during California Coastal Cleanup Day. Teachers can bring classes of students to collect garbage and learn about the marine environment, and some workplaces form crews of people to get outside, clean up the environment, and have an interesting day outside of the office. People can also attend singly, either by registering to join a group or showing up at a drop in location—information about all of the ways to attend can be found at the Coastal Commission website. For people outside of California, information about International Coastal Cleanup Day can be found on the website of the Ocean Conservancy.

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