Every year, on the third Saturday of September, people from across the globe gather on their shores for what has become the largest volunteer event on the planet. In 2013, volunteers in over 100 countries held “Coastal Cleanup Day” events. Although the numbers for 2013 have not been compiled yet, in 2012, over 563,000 volunteers participated in this event and picked up more than 10 million pounds of trash.
The first Coastal Cleanup Day was organized in 1984 by a woman named Judie Neilson, an Oregon resident, who was frustrated with the amount of debris accumulating on the beaches. Impressed by the results of this event in Oregon, the California Coastal Commission held one in 1985, followed by The Ocean Conservancy (then known as the Center for Marine Conservation) in 1986. In later years, the Ocean Conservancy became the coordinating agency for the International Coastal Cleanup, helping to spread the concept to nations around the world.
In 1993, the Guinness Book of World Records recognized the California Coastal Cleanup Day as the “largest garbage collection” ever organized, with 50,000 volunteers. Sponsored by local businesses and organized by nonprofits, people from all walks of life come out to show their appreciation of their beaches, coasts, rivers, bays, and marine habitats. This event is also a great teaching and community service opportunity for scout troops, school groups and service clubs.
Volunteers are encouraged to bring their own containers and supplies for collecting debris, including reusable buckets or recyclable plastic containers and work gloves and closed-toe shoes. Typically, organizers will provide a central location for the collected trash and containers such as a dumpster, trashcan, or large trash bags. In recent years, clean up days have expanded beyond beach sites to include inland waterway events and dive and kayak events.
Unfortunately, an estimated 6.4 million tons of trash enters the oceans every year. Each piece of paper, cigarette butt or bottle cap that isn’t disposed of properly finds its way into our streams and rivers and eventually makes its way to the ocean. Ultimately, all of this debris in our oceans compromises human and wildlife health and negatively affects our economy. Not only are our oceans beautiful, they are an essential part of our water cycle, food supply, and provide many of the ingredients in medicines and everyday products.