As thousands of people prepare to tidy up the oceanfront for Coastal Cleanup Day this weekend, a recruitment effort is underway to bring thousands more litter picker-uppers to the South Bay’s inland creeks.
Every third Saturday of September for the past three decades, tens of thousands of people remove trash from more than 2,000 miles of costal and inland shorelines as part of the statewide event. The trash problem is especially pronounced in waterways that flow through San Jose and other nearby cities. Earlier this year, San Jose settled a federal lawsuit by agreeing to pay $100 million on creek cleanup over the next decade.
While the city and local water districts employs people and offer grants to incentivize cleanups, volunteers who go out on their own time throughout the year—and en mass on Coastal Cleanup Day—collectively remove thousands of pounds of trash each year.
Last year, 68,000 volunteers collected more than 1.1 million pounds of trash and recyclables from California’s beaches, lakes and other waterways on Coastal Cleanup Day. About 53,000 pounds of that litter came from Santa Clara County creeks and a third of it was collected by two year-round groups of volunteers: the South Bay Clean Creeks Coalition and Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful.
“Volunteers make a huge impact,” says Steve Holmes, a volunteer coordinator for South Bay Clean Creeks Coalition. “It’s amazing. You can see a noticeable difference.”
With creeks low and dry from the drought, there’s also a chance to remove trash that had been buried for years. The city calls it “legacy trash,” Holmes calls it “trash lasagna”—layers of rubbish hidden for who knows how long underwater and silt.
The Creek Connections Action Group, a coalition of local nonprofits and public agencies, lists 43 cleanup sites for this weekend. They include the Guadalupe River, Coyote Creek, Los Gatos Creek, Lake Cunningham, San Tomas Creek and waterways in Gilroy and Morgan Hill to the south and Palo Alto to the north.
Deb Kramer, head of Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful, said she gets lots of help from students attending San Jose State and Yerba Buena, Independence and Milpitas high schools. People who want to chip away at mandated community service hours can get credit for helping out this weekend, too.
Last year, more than 1,800 people volunteered for the cleanup in this county alone, where they cleaned up nearly 74 miles of creek and river shorelines. Notable items they found mucking up local tributaries include: a bowling ball, an electric stove, a kitchen table, a meat cleaver, a candy vending machine and an angel statue.
Statewide, the most common litter volunteers found from 1989 to 2014 were cigarette butts, which accounted for 38 percent of all the trash, according the coastal commission.
To sign up for Kramer’s group, click here, or go through her website at KeepCoyoteCreekBeautiful.com. To learn more about Holmes’ effort, click here. Here’s the link to sign-up info for other local cleanups. Volunteers are advised to wear long sleeves, pants and gloves and sign this waiver before getting started.
WHAT: Coastal Cleanup Day in Santa Clara County
WHEN: 9am to noon Saturday
This article has been updated.