Hundreds of volunteers will collect thousands of pounds of trash Saturday at Shimada Friendship Park as part of an annual statewide effort to clean coastlines and educate the public about healthy watersheds.
Unlike other ocean contaminants, “Trash is a pollutant you can see, so it’s less abstract,” said Juliana Gonzalez, the Healthy Watersheds Program manager for The Watershed Project, which co-sponsors the event with Supervisor John Gioia and the City of Richmond from 9 a.m.-noon on Saturday. At noon, volunteers can eat a catered picnic lunch served on compostable dishware. The lunch is funded through donations gathered by Supervisor Gioia, who started the event at Shimada Friendship Park 22 years ago.
California shares its 28th-annual coastal cleanup this year with the Ocean Conservancy’s 27th International Coastal Cleanup, which the Ocean Conservancy claims is one of the largest volunteer efforts on the planet. Nearly 600,000 people collected over 9 million pounds of trash worldwide during the 2011 event, according to the environmental group’s website.
Volunteers at Shimada Friendship Park as well as 25 other sites in Contra Costa County are encouraged to fill out data cards designed by the Ocean Conservancy to tally the items they find, which helps provide information about what kinds of trash turn up on the world’s coastlines.
Last year, the items that topped the charts at the Shimada Friendship Park site were food wrappers, plastic bags, bottle caps and lids, and pieces of Styrofoam, said Gonzalez, who also serves as the Contra Costa County coordinator for Coastal Cleanup Day.
“This is it – this is our biggest problem,” said Gonzalez, pulling a sun-bleached chip bag from the sand at nearby Meeker Slough. The second-most collected item on the Ocean Conservancy’s coastal cleanup list is food wrappers and containers. “It would stop so fast if we just sat down to eat,” she said.
This year’s event will feature author Beth Terry, whose recent book describes her mission to live a plastic-free lifestyle, as well as volunteers for The Watershed Project – known as “trash divas and dudes,” Gonzalez said – who will help participants place their findings in categorized recycling, composting, and garbage bins provided by the Richmond Sanitary Service.
The Watershed Project staff will also be encouraging participants to make a personal pledge to eliminate one disposable item from their daily consumption habits, such as drinking straws. “It’s incredible, the number of straws we find on Coastal Cleanup Day,” Gonzalez said.
Fifty participants in the pledge will receive donated prizes for reporting back to The Watershed Project about the commitments they’ve made.
Last year, those who pledged made “a commitment to themselves,” Gonzalez said. “This year, we want to measure the impact. We want to educate the public so they feel empowered to make a change in their personal lives.”