Members of the Hastings Environmental Law Association (HELA) and other UC Hastings students took a break from the law library this weekend to scour the shoreline of Ocean Beach for trash and waste. The students wore gloves and filled buckets with plastic bottles, cigarette filters, a cell phone, and even a bottle of Hennessey (which they swear was empty when they found it) in an effort to prevent land-based garbage from polluting the ocean.
Their efforts supported the annual California Coastal Cleanup Day, California’s largest annual volunteer event and part of the 2016 International Coastal Cleanup. The event encourages hundreds of thousands of volunteers to pitch in on the 3rd Saturday of September to remove trash and other polluting debris from the shorelines of the world. Last year, more than 18 million pounds of trash was removed worldwide and this year volunteers throughout the Bay Area participated in the global cleanup.
2L Claire Wilkens, Co-President of HELA, was inspired to participate in this global event after her research on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. “Supposedly, there is a massive patch of garbage, twice the size of Texas, circulating through the Pacific Ocean like a giant whirlpool.”
Studies show that the vast majority of this Patch, maybe 80%, is from plastic or plastic based materials. “The real problem is manufacturing and consumption of plastic, but if you can’t change that, you want to prevent that plastic from reaching the ocean.”
Not surprisingly, the most effective way to stop plastic from reaching the ocean is by physically picking up the trash. HELA wanted to demonstrate to students the importance of hands-on measures in keeping pollution out of the ocean. “Sitting in the classroom you might learn about international treaties and agreements that have done a lot to keep companies from dumping chemicals into the ocean or laws that prevent dumping into rivers. That has been pretty successful over the last 40 years, but we still have a problem with physical trash finding its way into the ocean. Law is really important, but it has to be in conjunction with tangible work.”
Claire hopes that if students can see the pollution first-hand, they will be inspired to think with more of a commitment to preserving the environment. “It’s a good reminder to be innovative with our solutions to diminishing waste and disposing of it. There is a lot of work that will keep us employed for a long time [as lawyers], working on things like San Francisco’s city-wide ban on plastic bags and similar measures to maintain the ocean’s health and repair the damage we have already done.”
When asked how students were motivated to pick up trash on a Saturday morning, Claire responded, “We recognize that you have to get up early, but UC Hastings and its students take the pro bono pledge pretty seriously, encouraging students to give back to the community. All in all it was a great opportunity to have a volunteer event with pro bono community service hours and a chance for 1Ls to come hang out with the members of HELA at the beach and do something good for the world.”
Check out HELA’s Facebook page for information on their upcoming events.