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A Reason to Be Thankful: One Woman's Amazing Beach Cleanups

In a Q&A with Patch, Sara Bayles shares how removing 1,300 pounds of trash from Santa Monica Beach has transformed her life. "I thought perhaps when I finished my 365 cleanups I would hang up my hat. Now I’m felling this new, reinvigorate

Santa Monica resident Sara Bayles was teaching ceramics at a nonprofit art center in March 2009 when she set a goal for herself: complete 365 beach cleanups. Since then, she's gone to the same stretch of the beach at the end of Ocean Park Boulevard for 20 minutes at a time, snapping beautiful photos of the junk for her blog, Daily Ocean.

Bayles has removed more than 1,300 pounds of trash. On Dec. 8, she'll reach her goal.

Santa Monica Patch: What's the most obscure item you’ve picked up?

Sara Bayles: During a Surfrider beach cleanup with Santa Monica High School, we brought back a black wax candle in the shape of a voodoo doll. It was kind of vaguely like voodoo magic. It was your average taper size, like 12 inches, and the neck was broken, but it had never been lit. That’s sort of a darker answer. The other day, at a beach cleanup with a friend, we got a stuffed animal hot dog. It was a dachshund with a hot dog wrapped around it that we dragged out of the water.

Patch: Where do you weigh the trash and how do you dispose of it once you’re done?

Bayles: I weigh the trash at the beach. I have a Staples mailing scale in my car that seems to do really well. I drag it out of my back seat. Then I throw the trash away at the beach. I know several artists take it and re-purpose it, but that’s not my thing.

Patch: What have you found the beach to be the dirtiest? 

Bayles: Weekends and the summertime are the dirtiest because people that work during the week will take the whole family to the beach on the weekend. An average 20-minute collection nets 4 pounds of trash. In the summertime, it jumps to 8 to 15 pounds of trash. A dry single use plastic bag is .25 ounces, so it’s not even 1 ounce. If you think about how much a straw weights, or a cigarette butt, or even an empty plastic bottle, that’s a lot. I usually go at sunset because Santa Monica breaks in the morning and the end of the day is the best time to take photographs.

Patch: Speaking of photographs, on your blog, you make trash look really pretty...

Bayles: I love photography and I understand that people think it’s funny or humorous that I make the trash look good. I don’t reposition or recolor it. What you see when you look at my photographs is what I saw when I took the photo. One of my favorites is of a sideways Gatorade bottle. The company had a flavor at the time that was "No Excuses." I got that label in the picture. I look for those quirky moments that will illustrate my purpose. I interject the trash to say, "yes, even in this beautiful place, this is what I find. This place that we’re supposed to take care of is being trashed." Even if it looks attractive, it also looks out of place.

Patch: Day-to-day, on the most practical level, how has this experience changed your life?

Bayles: I’ve stopped drinking bottled water. I’ve stopped using or accepting plastic bags when I go to a store. I’ve stopped using straws. I’ve cut down on the snack items that I buy. I’m not perfect, but for the most part, I think about the packaging that my food comes in. I try to buy food that has less plastic packaging.

Patch: How about from a more personal perspective?

Bayles: I didn’t understand when I was starting the scope of the goal. It’s taken 3 ½ years. Now I have contacts with people in other countries and all over the United States who want to do daily ocean cleanups. It’s grown much bigger than I ever anticipated. I was just one person who saw our local beach was pretty dirty. It started as "I’m going to the beach almost every day to take care of this problem that’s so enormous." Now it’s inserted into my day-to-day life. If I’m not cleaning the beach, I’m blogging or responding to emails. I feel like a daily activist, but not in an overwhelming way, and not in a way that feels forced. In some ways it’s just a new beginning. I will go on a speaking tour when I’m finished. There’s a book in it. I thought perhaps when I finished my 365 cleanups I would hang up my hat. And at times I’ve wanted to do that. Now I’m felling this new, reinvigorated energy. It just feels too strange to stop.

Patch: One woman's trash is another woman's treasure. Have you ever kept an item you picked up?

Bayles: I’m looking at it right now… a little yellow plastic starfish that has this ridiculously cute open smile and googly eyes. He’s now an ornament on my car dashboard.

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Brenda Barnes November 25, 2012 at 09:21 PM
Wow, what a great story! It is amazing to me--having spent five years walking on that beach from the Pier to Venice and back every morning and afternoon--that with all the tractor work they do cleaning the beach, there still is this much trash. I also always thought tractoring was the wrong way to do it, as it breaks down sand into dirty clingy dirt, and the exhaust fumes from those bulldozers every morning were repulsive, So kudos to Sara! Good luck with your speaking tour and book. The link to your blog here should bring more traffic to it and help set that up. When I was the speaker chair for the Pacific Palisades Women's Club, we got our speakers through a speakers' clearing house, so I hope you find many such ways to ease your way and make it profitable to do. You deserve it, and it will inspire many more people to do the same kind of thing.
Dan Charney December 29, 2012 at 05:44 AM
Brenda said it - except I do not do that walk daily- ( I should )- what I love is how authentic it is from start to finish- it evolved from who you are- naturally- the best to you - this is when the net can work so well

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