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Coastal cleanup in Richmond next weekend

on September 10, 2011

Last year, on California’s annual coastal cleanup day, about 600 volunteers picked up 75,000 pounds of trash off of the Contra Costa coastline, said Linda Hunter, executive director of The Watershed Project. On Saturday, Sept. 17, the event arrives again, and this year Hunter said she wants to “change the dialogue” — to make those volunteers someday unnecessary by preventing trash buildup to begin with.

The 26th annual coastal cleanup, sponsored in Richmond by The Watershed Project, Supervisor John Gioia and the City of Richmond, will start in Shimada Friendship Park, with smaller stations set up along the coast down to Point Isabel. From 9 a.m. to noon, volunteers will clean up trash along the shoreline while kayakers will collect trash in the water.

The sponsors encourage volunteers to bring their own reusable buckets to collect trash, to avoid plastic bags. Hunter said she hoped this step would start changing people’s thoughts about unnecessary waste.

The Richmond cleanup site is one of the largest cleanup sites in Contra Costa County, said Terrence Cheung, Gioia’s chief of staff. The coastal cleanup day is also the biggest volunteer-organized event in California. The effort extends to rivers and creeks far inland, since water systems are connected and trash and pollution inland can be swept down to the coast.

“Some people think of the creek as a place to dump garbage,” Hunter said. “They think they are throwing it away. Well, there is no away. If it goes in the creek, it goes in the ocean.”

Even trash on the street can eventually drift into a storm drain or a creek and will end up in the bay unless picked up.

The evidence is seen at the coast, in the water, and even in sea birds’ diets. The Watershed Project has been studying and dissecting albatross bolus — undigested food spit up by the oceangoing birds — to see the effects of pollution.

The bolus typically contains squid beaks, which are the bird’s staple food. But lately, Hunter said, albatross boluses have been containing less squid beaks, and more plastics, in the form of golf ball pieces, Styrofoam and other human trash.

“It shows that actions that you make on a day to day basis effect these birds that live thousands of miles away,” Hunter said.

The Watershed Project wants to change that by changing the way people think about garbage.

“There are really simple things you can do to reduce the amount of trash,” Hunter said, like using reusable buckets instead of plastic trash bags.

The Watershed Project also recommends switching to reusable water bottles and coffee mugs, and putting food in Tupperware instead of plastic bags. Every year, 16 billion coffee cups are thrown out and 29.8 billion plastic water bottles are bought in the United States, according to the Watershed Project.

Preventative measures will help lower the amount of trash, Hunter said, but the Watershed Project still encourages people to pick up trash whenever they see it on the street or in creeks.

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