Every day, Russ Risdon and his wife stroll along the beach near their house overlooking San Clemente Pier and clean up everybody's mess. Monday morning, Risdon's haul was bigger than usual.
Just hours after the last pyrotechnic explosion off the pier during the city's Fourth of July celebration, Risdon's yellow plastic bag was nearly overflowing with beer bottles and soda cans, cigarette butts and tiny pieces of red, white and blue balloons.
"I can't believe the amount of balloons I'm finding," said Risdon, 34. "Don't people know where these balloons wind up? It's just ridiculous that people can't respect the beach."
Risdon was one of about 50 volunteers taking part in the pier area cleanup, sponsored by the San Clemente chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, the 20-year-old group that works to clean up coastlines and prevent water pollution. Surfrider had four other crews spread out along San Clemente's coast Monday, and it sponsored beach cleanups in Laguna Beach, Seal Beach and San Diego County.
Ed Schlegel, who coordinated the pier cleanup, said his crew's job was made easier by San Clemente's proactive approach. The city "had people out here all day emptying trashcans and picking up trash," Schlegel said. "Usually, we'll get down here in the morning and see the cans overflowing and birds picking through everything. That wasn't the case this year."
Kim Aldriche, a San Clemente water quality officer, said Sunday's high tide prompted the city to keep its cleanup crew on the job throughout the holiday.
"If we didn't pick up the trash all day," she said, "it would have gone out with the tide, and that would have been real ugly."
But for many of the environmentalists, the ugliest sight was all the cigarette butts found in a city that in March became one of the first in the state to ban smoking on its beaches and pier.
"There's so many cigarette butts in this bag, I have to throw it out right away," said Paul Jessup, 58, of San Clemente. "I can't stand the stink."
Schlegel said he hoped that by next year the cigarette ban would begin to have an effect. "I think it's just too new right now," he said. "And on a holiday like the Fourth, you get a lot of people who are new to the city who don't know about the ban."
Thirteen-year-old Robbie Sapunarich of Rancho Santa Margarita was one of the youngest volunteers. An avid surfer and bodyboarder, Robbie joined the Surfrider Foundation two months ago.
"Rather than sit back and complain about all the trash I see on the beach, I decided to do something about it," he said. "I've seen all sorts of illegal fireworks and beer bottles under the pier this morning. It's all pretty disgusting."