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By Jake Howard

Over the weekend, South Orange County was doused with a good rain. On Sunday morning, after a brisk surf at Uppers, I was walking up the beach to where I’d put my stuff and had the pleasure of watching a father and his two young children combing the beach picking up trash. It was the coolest thing I’ve seen down at Trestles in a long, long time.

The family wasn’t there as part of an organized beach cleanup. Dad didn’t come down with his surfboard to sneak a session in. They were there with the express purpose of cleaning up the beach. Dad was spending his Sunday morning teaching his two youngsters, who didn’t appear to be more than 5 years old, about the importance of leaving the sand happier than they found it and doing their part to make our beaches a better place to surf and enjoy. Inspired, it prompted me to comb through the sand and do my own little mini-beach cleanup before I headed for home.

Plastic pollution is one of the biggest problems facing the world's oceans; thankfully, you can do something about it. Photo: Courtesy of NOAA
Plastic pollution is one of the biggest problems facing the world’s oceans; thankfully, you can do something about it. Photo: Courtesy of NOAA

Some years ago, The Surfer’s Journal founder and publisher Steve Pezman explained to me how every surfer should make a habit of picking up at least three pieces of trash after a session. His point was that if everyone took the time to remove just three pieces of litter from the sand, our beaches would be better for it.

For the most part, the beaches of San Clemente and Dana Point are in pretty good shape, but we could always do better. Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans has become an increasingly more serious problem in recent years, so much so that the Surfrider Foundation has made it one of its cornerstone issues. The foundation reports that plastics make up somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 percent of floating marine debris—80 percent of which ends up in the ocean via land-based sources (e.g., litter, urban runoff, illegal dumping). It’s estimated that every year, 5 to 13 million tons of plastic enter our oceans from these land-based sources.

This is where the idea of “think globally, act locally” comes into play. When looking at the big picture, the problem is overwhelming, but just like the dad and his two kids out picking up trash on Sunday morning, we can all play a part in the solution. And it’s not as complicated as you may think. It just takes a slight tweak in some of your most basic daily routines.

You can start by ditching those single-use plastic water bottles. Reusable water bottles aren’t hard to find, and they’re none too expensive, either. Use one. Pretty soon you’ll wonder what the heck you were ever doing using single-use bottles in the first place.

Same thing goes with that cup of coffee you need to fire you up every morning. When you roll into your favorite coffee shop, bring your own to-go mug. This will help reduce the use of plastic lids, non-recyclable cups and stir straws. And when it comes to packing your lunch for the day, try a reusable bag and reusable utensils and straws. Again, it’s about eliminating as much of the single-use plastics (sandwich and snack bags, plastic forks and spoons, etc.) as possible.

In December, I had the good fortune to spend some time on the North Shore of Oahu and learn about steps the local community is doing there to mitigate the impact of plastic pollution on their beaches. Just like San Clemente and Dana Point, the North Shore is one of the premier gathering places for surfers from around the world. If the beaches and water aren’t in good shape, it directly affects not just the surfers but a myriad of facets of the local economy.

“If I were to pick one issue that is undeniable and problematic in nearly every corner of the world, it is marine plastic pollution,” big-wave champ and San Clemente icon Greg Long said recently. “The good news within this plastic pollution epidemic is that every single piece of it is created by us. Therefore, it could be easily solved by us if we were only to accept responsibility, change our consumption habits and lifestyles and use alternative environmentally conscious alternatives.”

Nobody wants a dirty beach, and, thankfully, 2019 can be the year we all do something about it.

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