Berkeley community participates in 35th annual California Coastal Cleanup Day

Vanessa Arredondo/Staff

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A hat from a Stockton sea club, a Berkeley Police Department stress ball and various small plastic items — this is not a local Bay Area thrift store, this is the debris volunteers found along the shores during this year’s California Coastal Cleanup Day on Saturday.

Denise Brown, the city of Berkeley’s recreation and youth services manager, said nearly 700 people — including those from local schools, colleges and nonprofit organizations —participated in the coastal cleanup organized by the Shorebird Park Nature Center.

“We are part of a huge worldwide effort to help the earth, and of those efforts, we are one of the largest,” Brown said. “It’s being a part of something bigger than ourselves.”

Since 1985, volunteers have united every third Saturday of September to clean up debris from California’s rivers, creeks and beaches. During these 35 years, 1.5 million workers have removed nearly 25 million pounds of trash from the waterways, according to the California Coastal Commission.

According to Brown, most of the trash comes from the gutters in the city, which empty out into the bay. Brown said education is a large portion of the California Coastal Cleanup Day, and she hopes to increase the number of people who volunteer to pick up trash and decrease the amount of trash needed to be picked up.

Volunteers are required to sign a waiver and participate in a safety discussion before they are given a trash bag, a pencil and a data card, which they use to track the number of individual items found during the cleanup.

“This data is a critical part of the Cleanup —  it’s our only chance each year to get a snapshot of what is littering our coast, inland waterways, and ocean,” according to the California Coastal Commission’s website. “This information is used by educators and policy makers to help combat marine debris over the long term.”

The data recorded by volunteers led to the bans on plastic grocery bags, plastic straws and polystyrene foam, according to the California Coastal Commission.

For two decades, the top three trash items recorded during the cleanups have been cigarette butts and foam and plastic pieces, according to the California Coastal Commission. Plastic bags were the fifth-most collected item until the state banned them in 2016.

Brown, who has led the shoreline cleanup for 25 years, said “weird” items such as wedding dresses and prescription medications have also been found.

Joshua Chung, campus senior and president of UC Berkeley’s Sigma Pi fraternity, volunteered with about 30 other house members to clean the area surrounding the Berkeley harbor.

“People are giving more attention to these issues,” Chung said. “It’s important to build up on the momentum and not lose hope that we can do something about this.”

Contact Vanessa Arredondo at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @V_anana.