Plastic beads, SF Bay, and the blues

Sep 9, 2020
Sejal Choksi-Chugh
by Sejal Choksi-Chugh

Maybe I’m singing the blues, but I’ll venture to guess we’re all experiencing a pretty unusual September, with pandemic shut downs still in effect and smoky air keeping us indoors. Typically, this is a month of fresh beginnings, the summer ending with the new school year and crisper nighttime temperatures. And at Baykeeper, it’s usually the exciting start of volunteer season, with events like Coastal Cleanup Day.

In a normal year, we'd hold a large organized cleanup and maybe partner with our friends at Sports Basement, United, Levi’s, or a local community group at a shoreline park. And for me, it often becomes a family affair. My kids and I make a day of it, cleaning up the shoreline, meeting people who love the Bay, and learning about how trash hurts the Bay’s wildlife. 

But not every Coastal Cleanup Day holds a happy memory. I still remember one of my first at Baykeeper, nearly twenty years ago. As the group spread out along the Oakland shoreline, a co-worker and I found a nice shady spot and began filling our buckets with plastic straws and empty water bottles. Then we found a small green bead, which glistened when we held it up to the light.

The bead was beautiful, but soon we were singing a different tune. The more we looked, the more we found. Tiny plastic beads were everywhere, with no end in sight. Other Baykeeper staff came to help us, but it seemed almost futile. Where had the beads come from? Were trash cleanups pointless? What could we do to stop trash like this from making its way to the Bay? 

We never did figure out the source of the beads, but that day our scientists and lawyers became determined to advocate for stronger laws that would stop trash from reaching the shoreline in the first place. Since then, we've led the charge to enforce trash laws against polluters and to stop trash at the source before it enters city storm drains and reaches local creeks and the Bay shore.

I’ve also made my peace with cleanups. Stopping trash where it starts is critical, but so is removing trash from the shoreline before it gets into the water. And by doing it together—with friends, family, and colleagues—we build a sense of shared responsibility for the Bay.

This year cleanups are actually more important than ever, since there's been a big uptick in pandemic-related trash along the shore, with items like used masks, wipes, and latex gloves. Sadly, Baykeeper won't be hosting any big community events this year, but we'll be supporting your solo or pod cleanups throughout September. Our hope is to get members like you to pledge to do your own cleanups, with the goal of 50 cleanups by the end of the month. You can sign up here.

Baykeeper staff also compiled a special Spotify playlist to get you in the mood to help the Bay! Below are some of our staff’s favorite water-inspired tunes.

Hope to see you dancing on the shoreline collecting trash…from a distance!

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