By Founder and President Kurt Lieber
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grab the headlines every day here in the US, another plague rages on as well. Because we still don’t understand completely how COVID is spread, we’re using plastics in quantities that are just off the charts. These plastics are going straight to our landfills and streets as we try to do all we can to protect our individual health.
Plastic pandemic plagues our land and sea
While I can’t deny the efficacy of using plastics to prevent the spread, we are NOT doing as well as we could to reduce our use and waste. It feels like every street corner, parking lot, and hillside now has been covered in the stuff. Just like a dandelion spreads its seeds in the wind, plastics are now all over the landscape.
As I was heading to San Pedro last week to work on our flagship vessel the Mr. Barker’s LegaSea, all along the highway I was seeing thousands of pieces of single use plastics. It was so bad at one particular site that I just had to pull off to the side of the road and take a picture.
I saw two tents at the top of this hill, no doubt with homeless people residing there. I’m NOT blaming the people for their plight, but HEY, we can’t let all that stuff get into the storm drains and culverts! It’s just going to end up, unseen, in the oceans…unless somebody picks it up.
A few days later, I happened to tell ODA volunteer diver and Advisory Board Member Kim Cardenas about what I saw and she said she saw loads of plastics along a bike path she frequents in Ventura, California. Since that’s where I live now, I decided to go take a look.
The bike path runs right next to the 101 freeway, and I saw that it has accumulated thousands of pieces of plastics that get blown off the freeway and onto this pathway. This particular stretch of the path is on a bridge which runs right over the Santa Clara River.
While the “river” right now looks like a lazy stream, when the winter storms dump rain on the region, the stream will be transformed into a raging river. Then all the plastics and other waste will be rushed straight to the ocean, which is about four miles away.
So, ODA volunteers jump into action
Because the pandemic infection rate is so high here in Southern California, we’ve been reluctant to take the boat out where we have to work in extremely close quarters to remove abandoned fishing gear. So, a few of us decided to meet near the bike trail, grab our trash grabbers, and get to work. We met up at 9am on Sunday, August 9th.
Kim Cardenas and I along with two other dedicated ODA volunteers Rex Levi and Tom Weisel worked for two hours removing about 70 pounds of plastics. It might not sound like much, but plastic is very light weight; it would have filled four garbage cans to the brim. This debris was mostly single use items: food wrappers, straws, cups and lids, water bottles and caps, and of course, hundreds of cigarette butts…
The bike path was about a mile long, and we didn’t have the energy to finish the job, but we did clean up about 75% of it. There were drainage ports all along the path that were designed to let gravity drop anything that got in them directly into the river. No doubt most of that plastic we picked up would have ended up in the ocean come the rainy season.
This didn’t take a huge amount of coordination, and I hope anyone reading this might get inspired to take some action in your neighborhood. We can’t sit idly by, thinking that our cities will deal with this problem. Get a group of your friends, get out there, and be the change you want to see!