RICHMOND -- A truly successful Coastal Cleanup Day is one where volunteers arrive at dozens of Bay Area locations and discover there is no trash left to clean up, according to one environmentalist.
Based on the amount of plastic foam, car tires and bottles hauled out from Bay Area rivers, sloughs and coastline Saturday, that day has not arrived.
Thousands of volunteers fanned out across the region's waterways, from Antioch to Oakland, San Jose to Marin County, as well as throughout the state, in one of California's largest volunteer efforts.
With more than half of cleanup areas reporting, more than 600,000 pounds of garbage and 57,000 pounds of recyclables had been collected in the state, according to Eben Schwartz of the California Coastal Commission. Final numbers will be available next month.
In Richmond alone, about 3,700 pounds of recyclables and garbage were taken off the coastline.
Despite all this trash removed by hand, counted, categorized and either recycled or thrown away, only so much can be done in a single day. Volunteers said the sheer size of the state's garbage problem is not something they can cure on their own.
"There's no way we could have got it all," said Jim McGrath, a Berkeley resident. "We just tried to get as much plastic as we could."
McGrath, along with a dozen other volunteers, traveled in kayaks to areas near Point Isabel in Richmond not accessible on foot. They brought back five kayaks full of discarded plastic and other debris, but were forced to leave much behind.
The limited resources marshaled to combat a growing global problem failed to dishearten those on hand at the Richmond shore.
David Helvarg, author and president of the environmental group Blue Frontier Campaign, said he purposefully chose a career of environmental activism because of the possibility of success. The Richmond resident said it offers more hope than his previous profession as a journalist covering wars overseas.
"There will always be wars, but there might not be living seas, protected wetlands or wild fish," Helvarg said.
Helvarg was at Shimada Friendship Park on Saturday to educate others on the necessity of our planet's oceans.
"We know what the solutions are," he said. "We just need to create knowledge and commitment to turn the tide."
More than 600 volunteers -- a record -- participated at the Richmond event, according to Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia. Hundreds of those donning gloves and buckets this year were teenagers.
Maria Martinez, a Richmond High School senior, arrived with four other members of the group Youth, Mentors and Educators to lend a hand. Martinez plans to study environmental science after she graduates, but also wanted to set an example to her high school classmates.
"I know a small change can make a big impact," Martinez said. "If they see trash they should throw it away because even little things accumulate."
Some changes have been made. Arian Sarris, of San Pablo, has volunteered many times to help relieve the region's waterways of garbage. She has noticed a difference in Californian's mind-set just by looking at the trash that eventually washes up on shore, she said.
Cigarette butts used to litter a beach for miles, but no longer, Sarris said. There's a bigger problem.
"There's a lot of plastic everything," she said.
Almost 30 billion plastic water bottles are used by Americans each year. Most of these are not recycled and many end up in the water and eventually in the ocean, according to statistics provided by the Watershed Project.
Those helping clean just a fraction of this waste know more education will help reduce the amount of trash they pick up every year.
"If we changed a few minds today, I'd consider that a success," McGrath said. "In the meantime, we'll keep picking up after them."