This Saturday marks the 18th year that Heal the Bay has led the Coastal Cleanup Day effort in Los Angeles County. This year, nearly 11,000 volunteers will come out to 71 locations throughout the region to give the county a three-hour face lift. Volunteers of all ages will participate in cleanups from Sun Valley to Echo Park, Malibu to Long Beach. Divers will brave the murky depths at Redondo and Santa Monica piers and kayakers will help clean up Marina Del Rey.
The event continues a tradition where communities come together to make L.A. a better place. One might look at Coastal Cleanup Day like a shot of botox on Joan Rivers. The injection helps a little, but it doesn’t last long. Just a day or two later, all too much of the trash is back on our beaches, strewn along our rivers and creeks, fouling our local communities.
However, people who only look at the lasting impact of beach and neighborhood cleanups are missing the point. The value of bringing communities together for the common goal of bettering the environment is greater than the cleanups themselves. Thousands of people learn through volunteering to clean up environmental blight in neighborhoods, waterways and on the beach. The educational experience and gratification of making a visual difference in the community is an extraordinary reward that lasts far longer than the impacts of the cleanup itself.
When Heal the Bay first started organizing Coastal Cleanup Day, I was one of the many volunteers that felt unfulfilled by picking up Styrofoam pieces and cigarette butts from largely clean Santa Monica beaches. Over the years, I began to understand and appreciate the value of teaming up with so many schools, volunteer groups, businesses and cities for some end-of-summer cleaning before the rainy season. I saw that many of the same dedicated volunteers came year after year to make a difference. As Coastal Cleanup Day grew to over 10,000 volunteers and 60 locations, and KCAL9 and CBS2 started producing Emmy Award-winning educational specials, the once small volunteer day at the beach became a countywide phenomenon.
As a bonus, all of those data cards from Coastal Cleanup Day and Adopt a Beach became critical in Heal the Bay’s fight against our addiction to single-use plastic packaging and smoking on the beach. The simple act of getting together with friends and neighbors to take pride in community and clean up the environment has fueled a movement that has resulted in beach smoking bans, plastic bag bans and Styrofoam bans. So come out this Saturday morning and make a difference — a difference that could last for generations to come.