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3 Mice, 2 Chainsaws, 1 Rusty Mattress Spring: Those Are Just A Few Things Volunteers Found On LA's Beaches

Volunteers celebrate the first 100 pounds of trash collected by Santa Monica Pier. (Photo by Caleigh Wells/LAist)
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Nothing like taking out the trash on a Saturday morning. That's what 12,500 volunteers in Los Angeles County did this weekend, cleaning up more than 35,000 pounds of garbage before lunch.

The event was part of Coastal Cleanup Day, a day that started as a California beach clean-up in the 1980s and grew into a worldwide day of service.

Since then, 13 million people from 100 countries have participated. They have picked up more than 250 million pounds of trash from beaches, rivers and parks.

Heal the Bay organized L.A. County's participation. Hundreds of the group's buckets await the arrival of volunteers. (Photo by Caleigh Wells/LAist)
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On the beach north of the Santa Monica Pier, 1,300 people collected 825 pounds of trash and recyclables.

Zander Kroon, one of the volunteers, says when it comes to what kind of litter wins the popularity contest, there's no question.

"Cigarette butts by a mile," he says. "Everywhere you look there's another one."

Volunteers picked up 2.4 million cigarette butts last year. Artists repurposed some of that litter into art, like these surfboards. (Photo by Caleigh Wells/LAist)

The dirty, greasy soggy facts back him up. Cigarette butts made up more than a third of items picked up on Coastal Cleanup Day during the past two decades. Food wrappers and containers and lids round out the top three, making up more than half of the items found. Then there are the not-so-common finds, like rusty mattress springs.

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Rusty mattress springs were among the most unusual finds at Santa Monica Pier during the 2018 Coastal Cleanup. (Photo courtesy of Heal the Bay)

Beth Beltramo with ECO Dive Center leads a dive at Santa Monica Pier every Coastal Cleanup Day. She and her fellow divers try to get anything that sinks to the bottom before it reaches shore. The list of items they've found under the pier is much more diverse.

"Lots of urns," she says. "Fun things we've found are wedding dresses, lots of GoPros. We found a diamond ring three years ago. Lots of sand toys, iconic dolls. All kinds of things."

Honorable mentions for the weirdest trash found during this weekend's cleanup include two chainsaws, three wedding bands and three live mice trapped in bottles found in Manhattan Beach. Don't worry, the mice were released. There wre also plenty of unused prescription drugs, found in Compton Creek.

Unused prescription drugs recovered from Compton Creek. (Photo courtesy of Heal the Bay)
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Why do such weird items turn up in water? Because only 20 percent of beach trash was left by littering visitors. The other 80 percent comes from people and businesses the city. It's swept into storm drains and floats along streams until it gets to the ocean and washes up on shore.

Here's another bummer number: The trash picked up on Coastal Cleanup Day accounts for only 0.1% of what's dumped in the ocean every year.

That's why CEO Janice Jones of Coastal Conservancy (the organization that puts on the whole thing) says it's not just about beautifying beaches: "It's about raising awareness and it's about helping people think about their trash footprint."

Beyond encouraging more thoughtful consumption and better recycling habits, Jones wants people to learn how they can stop trash from getting to the beaches.

"Mobilizing citizen science about this issue has really helped inform what's being found," she says. "Then we can figure out how it's getting on the beach and how to stop it at its source."

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