Community Building at Coastal Cleanup

Information regarding clean up locations is located at Clean Up The City’s website. Photo courtesy of Bobak Esfandiari.

Volunteers in neon vests and plastic gloves could be seen a mile away as they gathered in front of Ocean Beach Cafe on Nov. 11, ready for a morning filled with community service. The cafe works with local organizations Refuse Refuse, Together SF, and the Civic Joy Fund to host weekly neighborhood trash pickups, all under the umbrella organization Clean Up The City. These events use grassroots volunteer efforts to clean up San Francisco.

Refuse Refuse is one of the largest city-wide garbage collection organizations. Their cleanups have led to the proper disposal of more than 457,912 gallons of littered trash.

The nonprofit group Together SF aims to raise civic engagement and education in the city and organizes events including neighborhood cleanups, food pantries, and meal deliveries.

The Civic Joy Fund was started as a way for community members to connect by working on shared communal projects. They helped sponsor Saturday’s event, paying for all the volunteers’ lunches. 

The clean up brought together 52 volunteers from diverse backgrounds and ages. A large number were students, young people, and families with children. Ocean Beach cleanup captain Bobak Esfandiari split the group into four sections, each tackling a different part of the neighborhood. One team took over the beach, a second the surrounding walkway and parking lot, the third the Balboa Natural Area parallel to the beach, and the final group focused on La Playa Street, the bus station, and the Safeway parking lot.

Handheld mechanical trash grabbers, garbage bags, gloves, and other essential supplies were provided, and after a quick instructional speech and welcome from the cafe, volunteers had 90 minutes to gather all the trash they could before Recology, San Francisco’s waste management system, came to pick up the collection. 

“I feel like the city sometimes isn’t doing enough to keep it clean, so we have to work together to make it cleaner,” said first year marketing major Megan Galle, who was there volunteering.

In recent years, there has been an increase in littering and illegal waste dumping in San Francisco streets. The city has a customer service line where citizens can report abandoned waste, and in 2022, there were over four times the amount of calls than there were a decade ago. Recology picked up 8.8 million pounds of illegally dumped garbage last year. 

The city has proposed plans to use movable license plate reader cameras to identify and take action against those who litter. However, the process has seen delays since its proposal in 2020, due to a change in vendors, leading citizens to take the matter into their own hands.

Though these cleanups always yielded a steady turnout of 20-30 volunteers, event leaders said they have noted an increase in volunteer numbers after the pandemic. Regarding participation, Esfandiari said, “I think people, as they came out of the pandemic and wanted to get more involved in their communities again, have been looking for easy, lightweight ways of getting involved and this is a great way, giving back to the community and keeping the streets clean.”

Esfandiari, who has been involved in this cleanup since May 2021, said, “There will always be trash on the beach, at the end of the day. But for me, one of the greatest joys is the idea that we’re not just picking up trash on a weekend, but that people are making friends and connecting in ways that I think is really healthy and good for everyone involved.”

First-time event attendee Destin Stewart, age 18, said, “I feel like it builds more of a community. You come together with people you don’t know and together, you clean up the city.”

Information on joining one of these cleanups can be found on the Clean Up The City website.

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