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It used to be that when you walked down the beach all you could feel was the sand and water between your toes, maybe a shell or two.

These days, when you go to the beach, you won’t only find sand and shells.  You’ll find trash, and a lot of it.

Five years ago we set out to change this, launching a monthly beach cleanup program with Coastal Playground, every second Saturday of the month, at Huntington State Beach.

Early on June 11, 340 individuals of all ages gathered, armed with gloves, reusable bags, and trash pickers, ready to hunt, with trash as their prey.

Over a span of two hours, they removed over 264 pounds of trash from a quarter mile stretch of beach, filling 11 trash bags with items such as microplastics, cigarette butts, and bottle caps. Through the completion of 56 cleanups, our volunteers have collected a whopping 10,118 pounds of trash.

Andrew Sneddon (owner of Coastal Playground) and I high-fived in congratulations after weighing the heavy black bags with fish scales, announcing the success of achieving a 10,000-pound milestone of trash removed from Huntington State Beach. As the volunteers cheered, celebrating their accomplishment, we reminded them that while removing 10,000 pounds of trash from our beach is worth celebrating, the real milestone lies in the strides made in community involvement and environmental education.

Five years and 10,118 pounds later, we are nowhere near done yet. The problem of pollution remains; the mass of trash collected at these cleanups is nothing in comparison to the amount that currently litters our creeks, rivers, and beaches.

With eight million metric tons of plastic entering our oceans every year, of which 60-80 percent originates from land based sources, our favorite play spaces including rivers, creeks, and beaches are becoming the face of our pollution problems. Not only is this debris an eyesore, they endanger our community members, wildlife, fragile ecosystems and economy.

However, no effort is too small, these cleanups act as an extremely powerful educational tool for the Orange County Community. It is amazing the difference you can make when 340 people work together towards a common goal, but if every person in Orange County gave two hours of their time once a month to protect their home, we could do great things.

We strive to make all cleanup events a powerful and positive learning experience that leaves volunteers feeling empowered and inspired to make a difference. Many volunteers are previously unaware of the pollution problems that exist and how they impact the local environment. By removing debris, participants get an up close view of the local pollution problem.  They see how simple actions can directly improve their local environment and are more likely to reduce, reuse and recycle, as well as, support pollution reduction policies.

Through this program, we aim to create a community of ‘Coastkeepers’ who are educated about environmental issues and are dedicated to ensuring our coastal resources remain intact for future generations.

With few natural places left, teaching residents and visitors how their choices can impact the local environment and how to enjoy them responsibly is crucial to protecting and preserving our favorite creeks and beaches. We also invite local businesses to sponsor our beach cleanups, during the June cleanup Slyde Handboards helped protect their favorite beaches by donating $1 per pound of trash we picked up.

In addition to the Monthly Beach Cleanups, the Cleanup OC program includes the annual Orange County Coastal Cleanup Day, creek cleanups and corporate cleanups. We are currently planning to add two more monthly beach cleanups to our calendars in San Clemente and Seal Beach. Come find us next month at Tower #2 on July 9!