The Daily Ocean

Cleaning up the beach & why straws suck

Last week I had the privilege of joining Sara Bayles of The Daily Ocean on a beach cleanup here in our heavenly home city of Santa Monica. <!–more–>

Beautiful Santa Monica Beach

Santa Monica Beach

Sara’s project is pretty amazing. She’s spending 20 minutes a day for 365 days collecting, weighing, and documenting beach trash in order to bring attention to the awful problem of plastic marine pollution.

According to Heal the Bay, this is one of 4 billion plastic bags that get dumped into our ocean in LA county each year.

According to Heal the Bay, this is one of 4 billion plastic bags that get dumped into our ocean in LA county each year.

I never knew just how much plastic and awful junk we’re allowing to pollute our water supply and marine life. The toxins that we’re dumping into the ocean don’t just harm sea creatures and disrupt aquatic ecosystems, they make it dangerous to swim in certain parts of the ocean because of high bacteria count (including Santa Monica bay, at times) and inject toxins into our fish and food supply. And most of this is a result of our reluctance to give up single-use plastic items like bags, food containers, and staws (Aaaack, the straws!! More on those later…)

We found a whole army's worth of plastic soldiers on the beach. This was just one of them.

We found a whole army’s worth of plastic soldiers on the beach. This was just one of them.

One of my favorite parts of meeting Sara was the chat we had about how environmental awareness comes to different people at different times, and how it’s important to meet people with gentle, digestible messages wherever they are. One of the reasons that Sara limits herself to 20 minutes of beach cleanup a day is because she wants to let people know how small, do-able efforts can have big impact over time. Sara’s on Day 98 of her beach cleanup, and she’s already collected nearly 400 pounds of beach trash. If every one of us spent 20 minutes a day picking up litter or trash, imagine the impact!

Unidentified fossil-y soda can object

Unidentified fossil-y soda can object

As Sara and I made our way down the beach, we stumbled upon a lot of freaky stuff, including this weird prehistoric-looking chunk-o-something. When we examined it closely, it turned out to have a soda can embedded inside! For how many years did that aluminum can float around in the sea? Our talk moved to how we both see eco-consciousness as a sign of emotional maturity: When we’re younger, we’re really wrapped up in ourselves and the people and events that immediately surround us — friends, boyfriends, etc. As we grow, we evolve to experience our connection to the larger world. It’s at this point in our lives that we’re able to feel compassion for far away peoples, a bond to nature, and the desire to care for the Earth. (Yeah, uh-huh, I’m so evolved. Except when I want ice cream. Then I’m like a prehistoric wildebeest.)

It was shocking to find a plastic straw in the sand every five feet or so.

It was shocking to find a plastic straw in the sand every five feet or so.

The really discouraging part of our outing was how many straws we found in the sand. Sara says that straws are the most common beach trash she finds — one day last week, she picked up 32 plastic straws in 20 minutes! Plastics never biodegrade, so we create bottles, plates, cups and packaging that’s made to last forever but designed to be used once and thrown away. It’s awful, isn’t it?  But at least people need bottles and plates, and we’re trying to make the switch to reusables. The question I can’t shake is: What the heck do we need straws for?? Use your lips, people! Have we really become so pampered that the act of raising a glass to our mouths is just too much work? Do we need this disposable plastic thing that will exist for all eternity to drink through for five minutes? Is it that much harder to sip instead of suck??  The only excuse for drinking through a straw is if you’re a supermodel trying not to mess up your lipstick while having a sip of Cristal before heading down the runway. Is that you? Thought not. So skip the straw.

Sara's bag of beach straws. Ick!

Sara’s bag of beach straws. Ick!

This is a bag of plastic straws that Sara’s been collecting to give to her friends Anna Cummins and Marcus Eriksen, who are building a boat out of used straws and sailing it down the Siene River and the English Channel. They’re the team behind JUNKraft, a raft made from 15,000 plastic bottles that was sailed from California to Hawaii during the summer of 2008 to bring attention to the issue of plastic marine debris.

Sarah's awesome "the Daily Ocean" cloth bag, handmade by The Green Bag Lady

Sarah’s awesome “the Daily Ocean” cloth bag, handmade by The Green Bag Lady

This is Sara’s super-cool bag, made by the Green Bag Lady, an artist who makes free handmade fabric shopping bags for anybody who promises to use them instead of paper or plastic. The Green Bag Lady has already made over 8,000 bags for people across the world.

The lovely Sara Bayles of The Daily Ocean

The lovely Sara Bayles of The Daily Ocean

Sara is a true eco-hero. She’s passionate, informed, and dedicated to cleaning up our oceans. The day that we collected beach trash, Sara picked up 2 pounds, and I collected .5 pounds (Not much, but I was busy listening and being enlightened about our ocean!) If you live in the Santa Monica area and want to join us on a day of beach trash pickup, just contact me at tracy {at}, or find Sara over at The Daily Ocean.

And remember, the next time someone offers you a straw, just say no. Straws suck, and sipping is sexy!

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  1. What Sara is doing is really inspiring. I live by the beach in Scotland and everytime I go for a walk, I’m re-taught a valuable lesson – plastic is the worst possible material to use in packaging. As Cheryl, I think pointed out, glass returns to the sand and at best, becomes beautiful sea glass. Paper, despite the obvious sad effects of unsustainable logging, will at least biodegrade. But plastic (and polystyrene) are a constant blight on coastlines in Scotland…Hawaii, California…everywhere. So many of us love to be in these stunning coastal places but, unlike, perhaps living in the mountains, our seaside homes provide a very immediate reminder of the damage being created by a social addiction to the use of plastic. So, it’s great to see people like Sara, helping to increase awareness of this issue. :)

  2. Everyone drinks. Not everyone prefers straws, but for those who do, please consider reusable straws!
    Glass straws are made from glass. Glass is partially made from sand. What would happen if you left your glass straw on the beach. … and more importantly, would you leave your glass straw on the beach?
    Please re-think, re-consider and re-use!

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