By Wilson Walker

ALAMEDA (KPIX) — The state is now mobilizing — and spending a lot of money — to clean up all of the junk we often see along highways. But Saturday was the day for the annual coastal cleanup and a lot of people, frustrated by the unsightly problem, were willing to spend their own time to pick up someone else’s trash.

“Anywhere you go, you pull over on the side of the road to go biking and there’s trash,” said Kristen Bowman of Oakland. “What’s breaking my heart today is that there’s just so much trash here right at the water’s edge … then goes into this beautiful estuary that we have.”

For anyone who has ever been infuriated by the amount of trash you see around California, this was the day to do something about it: the 37th annual Coastal Cleanup Day. Thousands of volunteers descended on our region’s shorelines, waterways and estuaries, trying to tackle a notorious problem that has only gotten worse with the pandemic.

“I found wrappers,” said Micaela, picking up trash in Oakland.

They picked along just about every waterfront in the Bay Area, gathering up anything that’s been tossed aside. Some of it was large, some medium-size, but a lot of it was small.

“Mostly plastic,” Micaela added.

“You think about how people used to behave before we became a really disposable society, they took their own water bottle with them, they put food in a bag and brought it out with them,” said Kat Sawyer with The Watershed Project. “Now everything has been made so easy but there’s no cost assigned to the waste.”

For a lot of those who came out Saturday, fighting the tidal wave of waste we all see is a personal calling, even if the size of the challenge can feel overwhelming.

“I go for months, I just walk by trash and I don’t do anything about it,” said Chris Kent in Richmond. “Then I start picking up trash. Then I’ll go for years without picking up trash then I go back to it.”

So the volunteers took what they could over the course of one day and, while they all said the work was rewarding, it’s hard not to think the mess is entirely preventable.

“A small change, a little tiny change with everyone of just putting the trash in the right place — for those that have a trash can nearby or have access to that. That would go a long way, just that simple act,” Bowman said.