Here’s what you need to know about the California Coastal Cleanup this weekend

It’s time to pick up the trash across the Golden State.

California’s Coastal Cleanup day is Saturday, Sept. 17. Even if you’re not near the beach or think it’s too late to pitch in, you can still take part.

Since 1985, the California Coastal Commission has held California Coastal Cleanup Day. The first event had about 2,500 volunteers, but in recent years, about 70,000 people have averaged collecting 17.1 pounds of trash each.

The event is usually held on the third Sunday of September from 9 a.m.-noon (in most locations). The pandemic has presented a few new obstacles and while COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted in many locations around the state, they are asking anyone with symptoms to stay away.

Lasting through September

You can still participate in Coastal Cleanup in your neighborhood, parks and local area any time in September. Contribute by downloading the CleanSwell app to count your trash, gather cleanup supplies from home and clean on your own time. All cleanups that take place during September count toward statewide goals.

The CleanSwell app works wherever you are around the world. The data you collect will instantaneously upload to Ocean Conservancy’s global ocean trash database.

Calling all inlanders

The cleanup may have coastal in the title, but volunteers in inland areas are encouraged to sign up. In 2018, 800 CalTrans Adopt-a-Highway volunteers removed more than 7,000 pounds of debris from 400 miles of California highways. That same year, 2,682 volunteers removed 79,978 pounds of debris from 162 miles of lakes, rivers and streams.

Cleaning inland areas is crucial to supporting healthy ecosystems, protecting recreational values and preventing debris from being washed downstream to our coasts and oceans. The Sierra Nevada Conservancy has been getting involved and helps organize volunteers to clean up waterways and open spaces in 22 counties of the Sierra Nevada region.You can find a list of organizers for all regions at

Going global

In 1993, California Coastal Cleanup Day was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the “largest garbage collection” ever organized, with 50,405 volunteers. However, in 2019, the International Coastal Cleanup, which was overseen by the Ocean Conservancy and combined with the California Coastal Cleanup Day, set a record with 943,195 volunteers.

The 2019 event had volunteers from 116 countries and logged more than 20.7 million pounds of trash collected. Food wrappers and cigarette butts were the most common items collected.

The California Coastal Commission also has an Adopt-a-Beach program for your favorite beaches that you can help clean all year long.

What to do with the trash collected

It is vitally important to make sure that trash removed from the environment does not end up back in the environment after a cleanup. Do not put loose trash or filled trash bags in overflowing garbage cans or dumpsters — this increases the chance the trash you collect will end up back in the environment.

It is important to know what waste management processes are in place in your area. If you are cleaning up on public land and you are not sure how best to dispose of the trash you collect, call the appropriate park or land manager to ask what they would like you to do with the trash you collect.

If you are cleaning up on private land, or in an area without clear waste management solutions (trash/recycle cans, regular collection, etc.) make a plan to transport what you collect to an appropriate collection point.

Not all plastics are recyclable, and recyclability differs by location and available recycling infrastructure. Contact your local recycling service to ensure that the items you plan to recycle are acceptable.

Trash haul

Imagine if 35 garbage trucks full of trash washed up on California beaches every year. The total weight of the trucks and trash is the equivalent weight of what volunteers pick up in one day (854,496 pounds in 2011) on California’s Coastal Cleanup Day.

Sources: California Coastal Commission, Ocean Conservancy, NOAA, Top image: Register photo illustration.

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