My Volunteering Journal: Episode 3 – Heal the Bay’s Annual Coastal Cleanup Day AKA Cigarette Butts are Nasty

heal“I’m not picking that up.”

I’m staring at a 15-foot ship wrecked on Playa del Rey beach. My partner in crime today, Matt, is teasing me for dragging him to the beach at 9am on a Saturday morning. He peruses the trash collection log we have to fill out.

“So I guess we mark this under boat parts.  Because there is no section for a whole boat.”

Today is Heal the Bays’ Annual Coastal Cleanup Day. I'm here to work not verbally spar so I ignore Matt’s snarky comment and snap on the one latex glove they gave me for protection against beach ick.

“The one who picks up the most cigarette buttswins.”

My challenge was meant as a joke.  If I had known that smokers actually search for clean sand to throw cigarettes onto versus well placed trash cans I would have shut up.

The beach stretching out in front of me teems with volunteers of all types. Groups of perky co-eds abound, religious groups, families, women wearing hijabs, senior citizens, toddlers with foot tall afros, surfer dudes, and bikini clad fitness model types are all here to do their part. Heal The Bay advised participants to use sunscreen, dress in layers, and wear close toed shoes.  Two minutes in I have abandoned my sand filled shoes and stripped down to as little as I could without being indecent.

The eager and excited children run ahead and pick up large bottles and trash items like they’re at a huge Easter egg hunt. Note to self: Next year bring eager toddler. The items left for the larger individuals to grab are tiny pieces of shredded Styrofoam and thousands of cigarette butts. A litter scoop to shift the sand would come in handy.

Anyone who has walked in sand for three hours will tell you that crawling is the best option.  By the end of three hours of beach cleaning I considered the dignity of crawling across one hundred yards of sand dragging a plastic bag smelling like a portable frat party in my teeth. Finally, I decided this would not be the best method of encouraging others to follow my example and try non-profit activities so I stayed upright against the protests of my calf muscles.

At the end of the day 12,262 volunteers in the Los Angeles area collected 181,000 pounds of trash from the beaches, waterways, and watersheds in the county. A great accomplishment, but isn’t it sad that there were 181,000 pounds of trash to pick up?