Cleanup Encounters Noteworthy Waste

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A 16-inch dildo - with a handle - was one of many "unusual" garbage items dredged up as part of the 16th Annual California Coastal Shoreline Cleanup in Berkeley.

At Saturday's cleanup, a message in a bottle from a 10-year-old girl looking for a pen pal was voted as the most unusual object by the event's volunteers. Other objects included a "twisty plastic straw with a floating eyeball attached," two front ends of cars, plastic fruit, a skateboard, men's underwear, a bathroom tile and a naturally-made terrarium - a self-contained, portable garden-in-a-bottle.

The cleanup, which covered 13 miles of local coastline, including the Berkeley Marina, Emeryville and the Albany shoreline, also turned up 3,044 plastic straws and stirrers, 1,479 grocery bags and 1,869 beverage bottles.

Nearly 1,000 volunteers gathered for three hours in the morning to pick up approximately 57,000 pounds of trash and more than 1,500 pounds of recyclable materials, said Eben Schwartz, state outreach coordinator for the cleanup. UC Berkeley's own volunteer group, Circle K, participated with over 60 volunteers.

Although the cleanup was local to the Berkeley community, it was part of a larger national and international coastal cleanup movement that takes place every year. Areas without ocean coastline usually clean up streams, ponds and lakes that are subject to similar types of pollution.

When especially strange items are found, volunteers select the top ten and vote on the "most unusual item."

The volunteers included many schoolchildren and their parents, college students and local beach users. The number of volunteers in Alameda County more than doubled from last year to over 3,000 volunteer beach workers this year, Schwartz said.

Generally, the volunteers that came out were very enthusiastic about cleaning the beach, he added.

"People know they're giving back to the community and to their own experience (as beach-goers), but it's also a day at the beach," Schwartz said.

Patty Donald, program director of Berkeley's Shorebird Nature Center, which spearheaded the local cleanups, said the effort was definitely a success.

"When people first get there they are overwhelmed and disgusted, but when they leave they have a sense of what good people can do in a short period of time," she said.

In addition to the unusual items, the California Coastal Commission records different types of objects that are found washed up on the shore. In fact, styrofoam cups have been banned from Berkeley in recent years due to the fact that they were found in large numbers along the shorelines, Donald said.

Locally, volunteers collected 16,546 pieces of plastic, as well as 8,714 caps and lids and 7,413 cigarette butts. Cigarette butts are the most commonly found item, on average, in the entire state, Schwartz said.

From the cleanup, the volunteers gain awareness about different environmental issues facing the local coastal regions. The area known as the Gilman Street Overflow, an area usually frequented by local fishermen, could not be cleaned due to the toxic stench coming from the water. Officials told volunteers to stay out of the water until it could be further investigated, indicating the presence of unknown pollutants in the local area.


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