Saturday, September 21 – the NEC Celebrates 40 Years of Coastal Cleanups by Going Zero Waste!

An NEC beach cleanup crew pose with buckets and tools. Photo: Megan Bunday.

This year the NEC is celebrating its 40th anniversary of organizing coastal cleanups! From its humble beginnings here on the North Coast, Coastal Cleanup Day has changed a lot to become the international event that it is today. This Coastal Cleanup Day, Saturday, September 21, we’re initiating an ambitious change and putting principle into practice by actively encouraging zero waste principles during this year’s cleanup.

In 1979, Joe Abbott and his wife Anne Morrissey began a project called the “Beach Beautification Project” which became a Humboldt County success and later morphed into both the Adopt-a-Beach program and Coastal Cleanup Day. The California Coastal Commission, having heard about our overwhelming success locally, started organizing the official statewide Coastal Cleanup Day in 1985. The Ocean Conservancy began it’s Coastal Cleanup program in Texas in 1986, eventually expanding worldwide.

Plastic production and pollution has increased exponentially in the decades since,  as single-use plastic products became more and more commonplace. Only nine percent of single use plastics is typically recycled (read more on page 6), and with the recent changes to global recycling markets, that number is plummeting as more plastic ends up in landfills and our environments. Scientists now estimate that there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2025.  Here at the NEC, we understand that in order to make a difference we must work together to stop the pollution at the source. This is why we are taking a stand against single-use plastics and reframing Humboldt County’s Coastal Cleanup Day with zero waste principles in mind. This year we are taking beach cleans a step forward and using Coastal Cleanup Day as an important educational tools, focusing on the daily difference that every individual has the power to make by refusing single-use plastic.

For years, we have been accepting Coastal Cleanup Day supplies from the California Coastal Commission. This year we are choosing to lead by example by no longer accepting single-use plastic bags and gloves for our cleanups, nor will we be condoning sponsorships from large single-use plastic bottle corporations. We believe that beach cleans are about more than just removing trash from the beach, and we must move forward to make changes necessary to stop the flow of plastics into our ocean.

As this is our first year of attempting a completely zero waste Coastal Cleanup Day, we are figuring out how to support local businesses and not add to the waste stream through our cleanups. We are asking that our participants bring their own cleanup supplies if they have access to them (ie. gloves, buckets, trash pickers, etc.). To those who do not have access to cleanup supplies, we will be lending out bags and buckets that have been generously donated from the North Coast Co-op for our cleanup efforts. These bags and buckets are bulk food containers that we are repurposing for our cleanups! We will also be lending out reusable garden gloves to interested parties to eliminate the use of single-use gloves.

In the past we have accepted free Coastal Cleanup Day t-shirts from the Coastal Commission for our site captains. Instead, this year we will be distributing thrifted t-shirts to avoid contributing to the second highest polluting industry—fast fashion. These thrifted t-shirts will be locally printed with custom artwork featuring the work of a local artist!

Now that we are no longer accepting these free supplies from the Coastal Commission, Coastal Cleanup Day sponsorships will be more important than ever! Sponsors will be given special recognition for their generosity in Coastal Cleanup Day publicity, in EcoNews, and on our website. If you or your business are interested in sponsoring Coastal Cleanup Day, please email our Coastal Programs Coordinator at, or call the NEC office at 707-822-6918.

Keep an eye on our website and social media for updates on our progress toward a Zero Waste Coastal Cleanup Day! Visit us on Facebook (Northcoast Environmental Center) and Instagram (@your_nec) to learn more about the NEC’s Zero Waste initiative and stay updated on all of our events.

For more information about Coastal Cleanup Day, visit us online at