Fall in Los Angeles means earlier evenings, vibrant sunsets, thicker wetsuits for surfers, autumn colors taking over the San Gabriel Mountains, and the first rainfall of the season is inevitably approaching with winter rains following. We welcome the much-needed showers to quench our environment and combat wildfires. However, the first rainfall (aka the first flush) also impacts the health of our local watersheds and beaches.
Stormwater is a major source of pollution for the rivers, lakes, and ocean in Los Angeles County. The first flush brings a flood of water, toxins, and trash from our streets straight onto our beaches through the storm drain system. The runoff eventually dumps a mountain of trash onto shorelines, from Malibu to Redondo Beach, without any treatment or screening. This poses a significant risk, not only for wildlife and marine life who can ingest trash or get entangled, but also to the health of our communities. This is why we have suggested safety precautions after a rainstorm, like waiting 72 hours to go swimming and staying at least 100 yards away from any flowing outfall that looks like a stream meeting the ocean.
During Coastal Cleanup Month in September 2020, Heal the Bay volunteers removed more than 40,000 pieces of trash, including food wrappers, straws, takeout containers, and plastic grocery bags from our neighborhoods, parks, trails, and beaches. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) even made the list of top items found for the first year ever. The 4,320 pounds of trash would have been swept through the storm drain system and out on the beach after the first flush if our amazing volunteers didn’t take action.
Coastal Cleanup Month ended weeks ago, but the trash in our environment continues to pile up. The first flush will happen soon, and it will take all of the accumulated pollution in our communities and storm drains and dump it straight onto our beaches. We have a finite amount of time to remove this trash before it reaches the ocean and becomes marine debris.
How Can You Help?
For several years now, Heal the Bay deploys a team of first responders known as the Storm Response Team in an effort to remove trash and debris around low tide before it heads out to sea. This dedicated team braves the elements and heads to designated areas immediately following a rain event.
We need more volunteers to join our Storm Response Team for the rainy season to help remove trash, track data, and/or document photos. If you’re interested in being the ocean’s first responder after a storm and protecting our environment and community, sign up to receive alerts about volunteer opportunities!
Heal the Bay will host a virtual training for our Storm Response Team to brief volunteers on what to expect and ensure the team is prepared to conduct individual cleanups after the first rainfall. When a storm hits, volunteers will receive an email a day (or sometimes just hours) in advance of low tide with relevant details and location recommendations. At that point, our Storm Response Team can spring into action, spreading out along the coast and collecting as much trash as possible before it is swept out to sea.
As the sun sets on Coastal Cleanup Month, we are looking back with gratitude and appreciation for everyone who participated in a cleanup, helped us spread the word, raised funds, and joined a virtual event over the course of the month. At a time when it’s easy to feel isolated from one another, it is inspiring to see how we came together across the County, from summit to sea, to protect what we love.
A New Take on 2020
Heal the Bay has been the LA County coordinator for Coastal Cleanup Day for more than 30 years, and 2020 proved to be a completely different cleanup effort than years past. In an effort to prioritize the health and safety of the community, the re-imagined concept was expanded to become an entire month of individualized cleanups close to home and virtual programming to educate about the impacts of trash and pollution and how we can work together towards solutions. Our Heal the Bay Aquarium education team engaged 437 LAUSD students with virtual programming about protecting our watersheds. This was also the first year that we asked for volunteer fundraisers to support our clean water mission. Fundraising teams and individuals raised close to $2,000, and we are grateful for their support.
Each week of Coastal Cleanup Month focused on a different region, starting at the top of our mountains, working through our neighborhoods & waterways, and culminating at our wetlands & beaches. The weekly programming featured a series of panels, webinars, and Instagram Lives with partner organizations that explored the various community and environmental issues facing Los Angeles County.
None of this would have been possible without our Coastal Cleanup Month sponsors, and we would like to thank Water for LA, Blue Shield, K-Swiss, Ford, and West Basin Municipal Water District for their support.
This year, we set a goal of collecting 31,000 pieces of trash throughout the month of September. Thanks to our dedicated Regional Ambassadors and 2,334 registered cleanup volunteers, we surpassed this goal with a total of 40,101 pieces of trash collected!
The top 10 items found across Los Angeles County in the month of September were:
The Effects of PPE and the Pandemic on Our Environment
Coastal Cleanup Month was the first initiative of this scale to track the impact of the improper disposal of single-use personal protective equipment (PPE) in LA County. In the first year of tracking this item, PPE was one of the top 10 items found by our volunteers, surpassing common items like glass bottles.
Through our data, we can clearly see the effects of the pandemic on our waste stream. Another observation is that people are relying more than ever on takeout, delivery, and outdoor dining at beaches, parks, and other public spaces. Disposable foodware accessories like utensils, straws, and takeout containers were some of the most common items found during cleanups.
The Plastic Problem
Looking at the data collected throughout Coastal Cleanup Month, it’s obvious that single-use plastic is the top offender. From utensils and straws to takeout containers and grocery bags, our lives are filled with plastic – and so is our environment. Unfortunately, the effects of COVID-19 have worsened these single-use habits and curbed a lot of progress that we’ve seen in Los Angeles over the last several years.
Plastic grocery bags were a common item found during cleanups until California became the first state in the nation to impose a statewide bag ban in 2014. Before the pandemic hit, we were making great strides in reducing our single-use plastic waste. We could bring our reusable bags to the grocery store and refill our reusable coffee cups at Starbucks, and our environment and community were all the better for it. Now, plastic producers are using the pandemic to push disposable plastics as a safer option, a position that has no scientific merit. They were able to undo the work of the state bag ban, and grocery stores statewide have not only reintroduced single-use plastic bags, but many have banned reusable bags from entering stores. This year, we saw plastic grocery bags, cups, and lids in the top 10 items found by our volunteers during Coastal Cleanup Month.
We also found that other than cigarette butts and PPE, the top 10 items are all food and drink-related. With the increasing reliance on takeout and delivery, plastic cutlery and other accessories are becoming a bigger and bigger issue. Restaurants often throw these items in takeout bags regardless of whether the customer needs them or not. To put this in perspective, 40 billion plastic utensils are thrown away each year in the United States. Plastic foodware items, like straws, utensils, and condiment packets cannot be recycled, so they are destined to end up in a landfill, incinerator, or polluting our oceans and communities.
How Can You Help?
Plastic pollution may seem like something that is out of your control. However, there are easy ways you can help make waves of change, from using reusable products when you can to supporting environmental legislation. Here are 3 easy ways to make a change:
From grocery bags and utensils to water bottles and coffee cups, there are reusable replacements for almost all single-use plastics. Check out our Heal the Bay Shop for some ideas! If you’re ordering takeout or delivery, make sure to tell the restaurant “no plastic, please!” and use your own utensils instead. Check out Reusable LA and Habits of Waste for easy ways to help combat this issue, like sending an email to third party delivery companies asking them to make plastic cutlery and accessories optional rather than the default. If you’re unsure where to start, conduct a home waste audit to evaluate your daily habits and see where you can replace single-use items with reusables.
Pack it out.
As a result of limited staff and the increased need to sanitize the bathrooms as a result of COVID-19, Los Angeles County Beaches & Harbors only has the capacity to empty the public trash cans once a day. Combined with the surge of beachgoers picnicking on the sand, this has led to an overwhelming problem of overflowing trash cans and increased beach litter. Similar issues have been observed throughout the County, so if you are enjoying our public spaces, make sure that all trash gets disposed of properly, and pack it out if trash cans are full.
Use your voice.
Every single person has power! You influence the people close to you by voicing your opinion, you influence companies with the purchases you choose to make, and you can influence policy and legislation with your vote. The California bag ban is a good example of local change leading the charge and turning into statewide change, so don’t underestimate the power of advocating at your local City Council or with the County Board of Supervisors. At its core, plastic pollution is not a consumer problem; it’s a producer problem, and you can use your voice to support plastic policies that make plastic producers responsible for the waste they create.
Get Involved with Heal the Bay
We are excited with the results of Coastal Cleanup Month, but protecting our watersheds and coastline is an everyday effort. There are ways you can continue to stay involved and support our clean water mission year-round with different programs like Adopt-a-Beach, Club Heal the Bay, and MPA Watch. If you’re ready for more action to protect our oceans, join our virtual Volunteer Orientation on October 12. And don’t forget to save the date in September 2021 for next year’s Coastal Cleanup efforts!
For the first time ever, Coastal Cleanup Day has transformed into Coastal Cleanup Month, a month-long event to celebrate our watersheds and coastline with decentralized cleanups, educational programming, and virtual events.
Every single one of us makes an impact no matter where we are in Los Angeles County. The mission of Coastal Cleanup Month, beyond cleaning up our streets, creeks, trails, and coast, is to show how closely we are all connected by our watershed. What happens in the mountains makes its way through our creeks and rivers, and the litter we see on our streets eventually ends up on our beaches via the storm drain system.
Heal the Bay has coordinated the Coastal Cleanup effort in Los Angeles for more than 30 years, and we are so thankful to our Site Captains for making the program as successful and impactful as it is. This year, our Captains were tasked with a new challenge: to help us encourage countywide cleanups while also making sure our community stays safe and healthy during these turbulent times. With their support, the role of Site Captains transformed into Regional Ambassadors.
Many of our Regional Ambassadors work for partner organizations that focus on environmental stewardship, conservation, and education throughout LA County, from summit to sea. Today, we are spotlighting some of our amazing Regional Ambassadors from each region!
Dave Weeshoff, San Fernando Valley Audubon Society
“In Los Angeles County alone, we can see well over 270 species of birds each year. Bird watchers enjoy sharing their observations, and so I learn each week where unusual sightings occur, including our seashores, lagoons, harbors, parks, marshes and of course our magnificent San Gabriel Mountains. The additional biodiversity of this high elevation watershed and its forests is easily accessed by way of the Angeles Crest Highway, which begins not far from my home, and is inviting to many resident and migratory birds throughout the year.”
Dave’s favorite cleanup site and happy place, the San Gabriel Mountains, has unfortunately been affected by the Bobcat Fire. While this put a hold on his cleanup efforts throughout Coastal Cleanup Month, he has been enjoying the local parks and cleaning his neighborhood when he can.
Kelsey Reckling, Pasadena Audubon Society
Kelsey and Pasadena Audubon Society are using Coastal Cleanup Month to highlight the Arroyo, the natural watershed that starts in the San Gabriel Mountains and comes all the way down into our neighborhoods. It is home to many species of wildlife, but also a spot where trash often accumulates. Pasadena Audubon Society is encouraging members and anyone else in the area to help clean our mountain areas, the Arroyo, and our neighborhoods.
“I love driving up to the San Gabriels here in Los Angeles because it is so close to us, but it feels like you’re entering a new world. You get to see different plant species and different bird species at higher elevations and also get to have a new perspective,” said Kelsey. “On a clear day, you can look out and see downtown Los Angeles and all the way to the ocean, highlighting our different natural communities.”
Neighborhoods & Waterways
Keyla Treitman, Oak Park Unified School District
Keyla has been a resident of Oak Park for 27 years and chaired the Oak Park Unified School District’s Environmental Education and Awareness Committee for 11 years.
“I feel we all have an obligation to leave a place cleaner than when we got there, a motto the Girl Scouts taught me long ago. Sustainability is a key concept that is important for children to learn so they can do their part to help. By educating them, it can become a natural extension of their daily lives.”
Keyla shared about Coastal Cleanup Month with the school district to encourage families to go out and clean their happy place. They are also working with the County of Ventura and volunteers to refresh the curb signs that read, “Don’t dump. Drains to creek.” at all of the storm drain inlets within Oak Park.
Mika Perron, Audubon Center at Debs Park
Mika is spearheading the Coastal Cleanup Month efforts for the Audubon Center at Debs Park. To help protect bird habitat around the LA River, Mika and her team are participating in cleanups along the LA River in the Elysian Valley and Atwater Village area. They are also cleaning up and maintaining the various habitat enhancement sites along the river, in order to continue building sustainable habitat for birds and other wildlife.
“Our neighborhoods and waterways provide valuable habitat for local and migrating birds, while also providing a gateway for people to learn more about our urban ecosystem. Even if it’s just observing a few crows outside your window, or catching a glimpse of the rushing LA River when it rains, our neighborhoods and waterways provide a place where people can interact with nature in their everyday lives. Local waterways like the LA River are especially important to us because they connect many different neighborhoods and communities – they are not only an important resource for connecting people to nature, but also for connecting people to each other.”
Wetlands & Beaches
Patrick Tyrrell, Friends of Ballona Wetlands
Patrick grew up in Playa del Rey with the Ballona Wetlands as his backyard, inspiring a life-long passion for wetlands and wildlife. He turned that passion into a career by joining the team at Friends of Ballona Wetlands, and is our Wetlands Ambassador for Coastal Cleanup Month.
“Wetlands provide habitat to an amazing array of plants and animals – they are the world’s biological hotspots. They provide food and shelter that are critical to the survival of many species. Every time I travel, I always look up the local wetlands in the area I am visiting, as I know that I will get to see some amazing birds and wildlife.”
Patrick and the Friends of Ballona Wetlands staff are spending the month of September picking up trash along the Ballona Creek levees and Del Rey Lagoon. They are also cleaning up near the Least Tern colony on Venice Beach to ensure that they are not disturbed by the beach groomers that would normally rake the beach every morning.
Brittney Olaes, Roundhouse Aquarium
Brittney joined us as a Beaches Ambassador from the Roundhouse Aquarium in Manhattan Beach, where she gets to share her passion for the ocean and marine life with her local community.
“When imagining the beautiful vast ocean, it’s hard to narrow down its importance. The ocean is home to countless marine life and habitats. It provides comfort and relaxation to those who visit, jobs and security for those who depend on it, and food and supplies for those who survive off it. Even for those who do not directly interact with the ocean, the ocean is making an impact in our lives. From climate regulation to oxygen production, the ocean affects all life around the world.”
The Roundhouse Aquarium is celebrating Coastal Cleanup Month by virtually educating the community about where trash comes from and where it ends up, and encouraging environmental and community stewardship. They are also running a #TrashChallenge to challenge everyone to pick up trash every day in September.
Carl Carranza, Cabrillo Marine Aquarium
Carl’s lifelong passion for the ocean and marine life led him to become an Educator with
Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. He has been involved with Coastal Cleanup Day for 15 years, and this year, he is one of our Beach Ambassadors.
“Ever since I was a child, I was in love with the ocean, especially tidepools. They have always been a source of joy and wonder for me, and ultimately led me to my degree in marine biology. The ocean is a place I can always reconnect to nature and frees my imagination,” said Carl.
A big thank you to all of our Regional Ambassadors for helping make Coastal Cleanup Month a success! If you’re interested in getting involved and helping protect our watershed and coastline from wherever you live, visit healthebay.org/coastalcleanupmonth.
More Ways to Get Involved this Coastal Cleanup Month: