Green Light: Trolling for Trash

By Tom Osborne
By Tom Osborne

 Hopefully an army of Californians was out picking up trash along the Golden State’s 1100 miles of coastline on the morning of Sept. 21.  That was the California Coastal Commission’s annual cleanup day.  Having gone online with no success in finding out whether there was an organized effort in Laguna Beach, I decided to pick up trash at Table Rock Beach for one hour.

What treasures did I find?  Cigarette butts were roughly 50 times more numerous than any other forms of litter.  Plastics were next in number. They included disposable water bottles, a few bags, and a Kingsford Odorless Charcoal container.  Other litter included empty Corona beer bottles, an empty flask of Whiskey Barrel Brew, a women’s purple camisole (I’m just reporting and leaving all conjecture to readers), an empty bag of Funyuns Onion Flavored Rings, and an assortment of candy and hot dog wrappers. For the first time in years, I found very few (three or four) scraps of Styrofoam.  Our citywide ban seems to be working!

Getting back to the cigarette butts, various websites state that these items meet the standard for being classified as toxic waste.  Recently, the San Francisco Chronicle (Sept. 19, 2013) stated: “Nationally, cigarette butts make up 30 percent of all litter along shorelines and creeks, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health.”   High tides, naturally, wash much of this tobacco refuse into the ocean.  The butts do not biodegrade and, therefore, are harmful to our marine environment. According to the Audubon Society, smoke-free beach laws reduce cigarette waste by as much as 45 percent. Clearly, cigarette butts do not belong anywhere near our besieged ocean waters.  Since Table Rock is a county beach, the government of Orange County is the authority to which we would have to turn in order to institute a smoking ban on that slice of sun and surf.

As I walked up and down this cameo beach picking up trash several young people (at my age that includes anyone under 40) thanked me; one person even carried some trash over to the bag I had. Another person said that he regularly picked up trash at a nearby beach. How nice it would be if people would adopt this particular shoreline, or any shoreline for that matter, taking responsibility for cleaning it up at regular intervals. When a group adopts a beach, says the California Coastal Commission, its members commit to cleaning it at least three times a year. In this way, people develop a bond with a particular stretch of sand.  Parents and schools can and do play a major role in teaching this to our young.  Surfrider Foundation and Zero Trash Laguna have both given beach cleanup great emphasis.

“I’ll adopt this beach,” I said to myself.  Then the idea struck me that perhaps as much as anything this beach, instead, had adopted me. My wife and I have been swimming at Table Rock and the adjoining inlet–called Secret Cove by locals–regularly in summers since 1974.  I’ve written a poem about this beach, explored countless times its tide pools during all seasons, photographed it on numerous occasions, and taken out-of-town guests down to it.  That beach, I realized during the cleanup, had taken hold of me long ago.

So whether or not Table Rock Beach ever is designated as a California Coastal Commission cleanup site, I plan to make my way down to its sloping sands far more often with a receptacle in hand and troll for trash.  Meanwhile, I’ll check out the Coastal Commission’s website ( to learn how the Sept. 21 cleanup day went for others who turned out at beaches up and down the state to help save our ocean.

Tom Osborne, a recipient of Laguna Beach’s Environmental Award, recently published Pacific Eldorado: A History of Greater California (Wiley-Blackwell Publishers, 2013). Currently, he is working on a book on Peter Douglas and the early decades of the California Coastal Commission.


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  1. Very much enjoyed your column this week. As usual it’s well written and focuses us on what we can all do to help our community and environment. Locally Chip McDermott of Zero Trash is doing an excellent trash clean up of our streets. Perhaps we could persuade them to also include specific beaches like Table Rock and 1000 Steps in South Laguna. Their Zero Trash 71st Pick It Up event is THIS SAT, 1st Sat, October 6 10 to Noon. What’s neat is you go to a local place like Hobie Downtown or Thalia Surf to pick up and drop off.
    You may want to try it out. LBHS students are involved and doing a great job of recruiting more volunteers.

    ZT Laguna Beach
    5 ZeroTrash Laguna Beach Pick It Up locations:
    Hobie Downtown
    Thalia Surf
    LBHS at the Marquee
    El Ranchito: Cress @PCH
    United Studios of Self Defense

    ZeroTrash Dana Point Chapter
    meet @ Girl in the Curl Surf Shop

    ZeroTrash Aliso Niguel
    Meet at Aliso Niguel High School
    Clean the Aliso watershed behind!

  2. Thanks, Tom for both chronologicalling the state of our beaches, particularly in South Laguna, as well as bringing attention to the #1 culprit, cigarette butts.

    Like the rest of Laguna, South beaches should also be smoke free. Additionally, if you wish to help keep butts of the streets you must provide ash tray infrastructure to the area after the ban. This gives the ‘bad’ smokers no excuse and serves notice to all, you mean business and are serious about keeping butts out of our environment.

    Working with the City of LB in the past we helped push the addition of over 60 ashtrays Downtown and along PCH. And as we approach our 71st consecutive Laguna Beach 1st SATURDAY event this Saturday, know that we clear about 6,000-to 8,000 pounds of trash and recyclables from Laguna’s STREET, Parks, parking lots and beaches each year via our monthly first Saturday event.

    Regarding Trash, if you want to start a South LB Chapter of ZT, let us know we have all the funding and can supply the tools for a 1st SATURDAY Clean-Up in South Laguna. It is sorely needed! We can be reached at [email protected]. Or via our website:

    Pick It Up!
    Chip McDermott
    [email protected]


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