Saturday, November 15, 2014

Coastal Cleanup Day: Where Are the Plastic Bags?

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
BERKELEY -- Matt Spaur came from Lafayette on Saturday to pick up trash on Berkeley's shoreline for Coastal Cleanup Day, and two hours in he had not found a single plastic grocery bag. 

The bags were banned from most of the larger Alameda County retailers almost two years ago. Spaur's experience in finding zero plastic bags gave him an idea. 

"We banned plastic bags, so why don't we expand it to other things," Spaur said, as he picked up yet another piece of polystyrene foam where Strawberry Creek empties into San Francisco Bay. "We haven't seen one plastic bag here all day. It's almost all these little pieces of foam. It seems like all the people who sell, distribute and use all this foam should be here cleaning it up." 

The statewide volunteer effort, sponsored by the California Coastal Commission and part of similar events held around the world, celebrated its 30th year on Saturday. Organizers expected up to 25,000 volunteers to clean Bay Area beaches and inland waterways this year, said statewide cleanup Director Eben Schwartz. 

Schwartz said in the East Bay, it's probably too soon to tally a major reduction in plastic bags as a result of the ban because they continue to be washed down to the bay shores from inland urban areas, where they have accumulated over the years. 

"But in San Francisco, where the ban first went into effect in 2008, we've seen a 34 percent decline since then," he said. "It will take several more years in the East Bay, but we will start to see an impact." 

Before Alameda County implemented its ban, Save the Bay officials estimated 1 million bags went into the bay each year. 

But the cleanup isn't only about plastic bags. Berkeley cleanup organizer Patty Donald said volunteers voted a set of dentures and a book on artillery as the most interesting items picked up from 9 a.m. to noon. 

Schwartz said last year volunteers picked up at least 300,000 cigarette butts off state beaches, by far the largest single category of items collected. 

The butts were part of 750,000 pounds of trash picked up statewide from 54 beaches. Twenty percent of that was recycled. 

He said the dirtiest places on the East Bay shoreline are the Eden Landing area in Hayward and the Guadalupe Creek area in San Jose. 

Volunteers came from cities all around the bay and inland areas to help Saturday. 

Angie Lagusis brought 15 Cub Scouts all the way from Mountain House in San Joaquin County to clean up Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach in Alameda. 

Although the beach at first glance is practically pristine, the scouts and others picked up plenty of plastic bottles, bottle caps, cigarette butts and napkins. 

"The core value of the month for our Cub Scout pack is cooperation, so this is part of that," Lagusis said. "We're also teaching our boys to take care of the environment and to work as a team." 

Dublin resident Nina Litvinchuk, 29, came to Alameda early Saturday morning with her co-worker Jaime Farrar, who came from Lafayette. 

"I'm originally from Alameda, so it's great to see all these people out here," said Litvinchuk. "It's awesome." 

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