Local results are in for the recent California Coastal Cleanup Day, which the Guinness Book of World Records has recorded, since 1993, as the largest trash collection event in the world.
Two weeks ago, at official sites of the 33rd annual event, preliminary results show 3,352 registered volunteers collected 14,091 pounds of trash from Ventura County beaches and inland waterways. Ormond Beach and Oxnard Beach State Park were the most popular sites, each drawing over 500 volunteers.
Statewide results are not yet posted, but local data indicate both the number of volunteers and amount collected are higher, as compared to last year’s totals.
Litter cleanup addresses a problem, and it also provides an opportunity for hands-on learning about how to prevent the problem in the future. For example, 75 students from Rio del Norte Elementary School in Oxnard (El Rio) spent over two hours cleaning Ormond Beach. When they returned to classrooms, they created charts and graphs helping them analyze the 1,626 pieces of trash; 762 cigarette butts were the most numerous type of litter collected. Teachers dramatized the lesson with an aquarium display containing water, cooking oil and toy animals, as they taught about the trash gyres in the ocean.
Trash gyres, areas of floating plastic debris concentration, were also the focus of a nonprofit organization, 5 Gyres Institute, which used the Coastal Cleanup day to emphasize a related lesson. At some sites, it separately counted and then mailed to California legislators collected pieces of polystyrene (often known by the trade name Styrofoam). The institute, known for leading the successful federal campaign to ban microbeads in 2015, cites studies predicting there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050, a problem “which no amount of cleanup events can solve.”
Posters promoting the cleanup this year used the theme “Get rid of trash, not wildlife,” and they showed pictures of wild animals in scenic areas. Some of the animal pictures were shown in reverse silhouette, making it look as though their images were cut out of the picture. For example, a picture of a condor flying over a rocky coastline also included a cutout in the shape of a second condor, along with text at the bottom of the picture, “Condors feed their chicks small pieces of trash, which can kill them.”
Larry Kelman, a fourth grade teacher who promoted Coastal Cleanup Day and organized the Rio del Norte students, says a new school that is opening adjacent to the Santa Clara River next year plans to take environmental education to a higher level. Teachers and administrators are working with water districts, public agencies and nonprofits to incorporate environmental education into many aspects of the science, technology, engineering, arts and math curriculum of the upcoming Rio STEAM Academy.
With successful environmental education, a future generation of leaders is likely to make the environment a higher priority, so perhaps future California Coastal Cleanup days will collect less material.