California Coastal Commission

California Coastal Cleanup Day - Educators' Guide

Family volunteers On Saturday, September 16, 2017, California's beaches, rivers, lakes, and other waterways will be visited by 70,000 people intent on having a positive impact on our environment. Coastal Cleanup Day is the largest volunteer event in California and is a part of the International Coastal Cleanup, which takes place in 100 countries and 42 U.S. states. Your classroom or youth group can be a part of this monumental event!

If you are unable to arrange for your students to get out to a shoreline cleanup on Saturday, you may be able to hold your event on Friday, September 15. Please contact your local county coordinator as early as possible to make arrangements. If you can't get out to a shoreline for a fieldtrip, you can do a Schoolyard Cleanup!

Find complete instructions on how to conduct a Schoolyard Cleanup as part of Coastal Cleanup Day, including lots of educational resources. Yes, you can still record your data and have it included in the Coastal Cleanup Day totals! If trash isn't picked up inland, it may find its way into a storm drain and then out to a waterway and eventually the ocean. All litter is potential marine debris.

The information that follows will provide you with additional resources and activities to enrich Coastal Cleanup Day for your students. Please contact us with any comments or questions as you guide your students through this experience: (800) COAST4U;


BYO For Your Cleanup

Please plan ahead to reduce the waste generated by your cleanup. Following a "Bring Your Own" philosophy will allow you to save plastic bags and gloves that would otherwise be used during trash pick-up. Assign your students to bring work gloves (if available) and an item from home to use in collecting small trash items. (Larger trash items would need to be carried in bags, or hauled separately.) Some ideas for containers include:
  • Reusable bucket
  • Half-gallon milk carton, opened
  • Cardboard oatmeal cylinder
  • Plastic milk jug with the top cut off
  • Plastic 2-liter bottle with the top cut off
  • Reused plastic shopping bags
As containers are filled, dump them into a central collection site, such as a dumpster, trash can, or large trash bag. The items students brought from home can be recycled after the cleanup, or you can continue to reuse them by providing your students with potting soil and seeds to create a small wildflower or herb planter. Be sure to punch holes in the bottom first.

If your students are packing a lunch to eat during the cleanup, make it "trash free." This means that students will strive to include no disposable items in their lunches. Some tips:
  • Pack lunch in a reusable bag or lunch box.

  • Sandwiches can be stored in reusable containers or simply wrapped in a cloth napkin.

  • Smaller items can be stored in reusable containers or tied up in a napkin.
  • Use a thermos or reusable bottle for drinks.
  • Fruit often comes in its own packaging—there's no need for a container for apples, oranges, or bananas.
  • Pack cloth napkins and durable utensils when needed.
  • Avoid single-use items like paper bags, plastic baggies, chip bags, pudding cups, etc. Families can save money and resources by buying larger packages and sending individual servings in a reusable container.
  • Lunch boxes and containers are available for purchase in a range of prices, or food containers and jars can be easily reused to make a free "trash free" lunch kit. Old dish towels can be repurposed as napkins for lunches.
  • If you have access to composting, collect any compostable items like fruit peels and take them back to school after the cleanup.
More "trash free" lunch ideas can be found on the following websites:


Educator Resources

The following links will provide you with helpful information about participating in Coastal Cleanup Day and incorporating related lessons into your classroom: Recommended books for classroom read-aloud: Videos:
  • The Adopt-A-Beach School Assembly Program - 21 minutes, grades 3 and up. The Malibu Foundation for Environmental Education produced this DVD, which includes excerpts from a live assembly program for students about the sources and impacts of marine debris. 2009. DVD free by request.
  • Saving Inky - 20:25 min. running time. A video for all ages about a pygmy sperm whale that ingested plastics from the ocean, was treated at the Baltimore Aquarium and then set free. 1994. DVD available free from our lending library or video available for viewing online in three parts.
  • The Trash Troll - 12:30 min. running time, for grades K-5. Teaches children the impacts of beach trash on marine animals. 1993. DVD available free from our lending library.
  • Synthetic Sea: Plastics in the Ocean - 9 min. approximate running time, grades 7 and up. An alarming look at the role plastics is playing in our waters, specifically the Pacific Ocean, by Algalita Marine Research Institute. DVD available free from our lending library (2001) or online (2010).
  • Gyre: Creating Art From a Plastic Ocean - 20:14 minutes. Grades 7 and up. National Geographic program shows an artists' expedition to Alaska with the goal to make art from the trash found on the beaches. Online.

  • Ocean Heroes: The Plastics Problem - 5 Gyres Institute - 2:17 minutes. Grades 9 and up. One World One Ocean interview with Anna Cummins and Marcus Erickson about plastic pollution in the ocean. Online.

  • Marine Debris - 3:17 minutes. All ages. An explanation of the marine debris problem by NOAA National Ocean Service. Online.
  • Our Debris Filling the Sea - 2:36 minutes. Grades 4 and up. NOAA presents the marine debris problem. Streaming, downloadable and captioned.

  • Trash in the Deep Sea: Bringing a Hidden Problem to Light - 4:12 minutes. Grades 4 and up. Describes Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute's research into debris in the deep ocean.

  • The Majestic Plastic Bag - 3:59 minutes. Grades 4 and up. Mock "wildlife" documentary about the plastic bag, from Heal the Bay. Online.
  • Ocean Trash is a Problem You Can Solve - 1:29 minutes. All ages. Statistics from International Coastal Cleanup Day from the Ocean Conservancy. Online.
  • International Coastal Cleanup Data Release 2013 - 1:50 minutes. Grades 4 and up. Statistics in captions (must be able to read fairly quickly), infogram-style. From the Ocean Conservancy. Online.
  • Midway Journey short films on YouTube. Impacts of plastic trash on Midway Island and the island's nesting Laysan Albatross. Some recommended titles:
    • Plastic Beach - 2:25 minutes. The seemingly endless deposition of plastic debris onto a single beach on Midway Island. All ages, however this does not present any solutions, just the problem.
    • Bottle Caps - 4:18 minutes. Grades 4 and up. Examining the carcass of a Laysan albatross, and the plastic contents of its stomach, with the Deputy Wildlife Manager of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.
    • Junk Food III - Looking in the Mirror - 3:13 minutes. Grades 4 and up. A very up-close, emotional examination of a Laysan albatross carcass, with reflection on the connection to human health.

Infographic Slideshows



Have your students create art or poetry based on their cleanup experience for the Coastal Art & Poetry Contest. Below are just a few questions that might help encourage artwork or poetry.
    Artwork by Leo Yang, 2012 Coastal Art & Poetry Contest, 
				9th grade, Arcadia
    Artwork by Leo Yang, 2012 Coastal Art & Poetry Contest, 9th grade, Arcadia
  • What do you do at the beach?
  • What do you see at the beach?
  • What animals live on the coast or in the ocean off California?
  • How are people connected to the ocean?
  • What colors can you see at the beach?
  • What sounds do you hear at the beach?
  • What textures do you feel at the beach?
  • Why do you love the beach or the ocean?
  • What things may harm the California coast?
  • What does the ocean make you think of?
  • How does the ocean make you feel?
  • How can we protect the ocean?
  • Do you have a memory of being at the coast that was special/powerful/sad/comforting/mundane?
  • What would California/your life/your community be like without the ocean?
  • What is California/your life/your community like because of the ocean?


Classroom Lessons

The following lessons directly relate to your students' experience with Coastal Cleanup Day, or provide an opportunity for additional learning on the topic. They can be found in California Coastal Commission publications which are available on our website and in hard copy by request. Follow the links below or request the source material.

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