Elsa Tranter cleaning up the Albany beach. Photo: Colleen Neff

Inspired by a Facebook post that she saw in January about an English grandmother who cleaned up 52 beaches in 2018, Elsa Tranter embarked on a mission to make Bay Area beaches better, one beach a week and one soda can at a time.

“I thought, ‘What a great thing to do,’” said Tranter. “I’ve always loved trash cleanups.”

Tranter, a grandmother of three herself, is posting weekly cleanup reports on her Facebook page. So far she has cleaned up Albany Beach and Bulb, Ocean Beach and the Embarcadero in San Francisco, Aquatic Park and the Marina in Berkeley, Sandpiper Spit in Richmond, Emeryville Beach and a beach in Point Reyes.

On May 22, Tranter posted about her 14th beach cleanup of the year:

A solo venture to the Berkeley marina, where there’s a sweet little beach near the children’s playground. On a gray, windy, and unseasonably cool afternoon, there was just one family (plus dog) sharing the beach. It was reasonably clean when I started, but I filled my bag a couple of times before I left. Nothing very exciting but I retrieved one fancy water sandal and assorted bottles and cans. I have learned that there is an official title for this (sort of), which is PLOGGING — a Swedish term for picking up trash while jogging.

Most of the trash she finds is bottles, cans, bottle tops, straws, plastic bags, and candy wrappers.

“You get obsessive and pick up smaller and smaller pieces,” Tranter said. “I find things like shoes. I can’t quite figure that out.”

Elsa Tranter on a beach cleaning expedition to Point Reyes. Photo: Colleen Neff

Following in the footsteps of David Sedaris

Tranter’s quest was also inspired by the best-selling writer David Sedaris, who lives in the South Downs in England. In addition to his sly sense of humor, Sedaris is renowned for picking up tons of trash on long daily walks. The town of West Sussex even named a garbage truck after him.

A few years ago Tranter, a long-time board member of Berkeley Path Wanderers Association, walked the length of the South Downs Way, a 100-mile trail between Winchester and Eastbourne. She and six Berkeley friends (also members of BPWA), walked about 10 miles a day from inn to inn.

“I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll meet him on the trail,’” Tranter said.

She didn’t get to meet Sedaris, but she did follow in his footsteps, picking up trash along the way.

“I found a plastic bag that someone had thrown out,” she said. “At the end of each day, with a little help from my friends, I had three or four bags full of trash. I would get great satisfaction from tidying up as we went along.”

All in the family: 7-year-old grandson joins in

Every Monday, Tranter picks up her grandson, Ellison, who is 7, at Berkeley Arts Magnet school, and they take the 67 bus up Spruce Street to her home.

“I tell him, let’s pick up trash while we go to the bus stop. He told his mom and dad about it, and he was really proud that he was picking up trash as well.”

An East Coast native, Tranter has lived in Berkeley since 1973, when her husband, Revan, was hired as executive director of the Association of Bay Area Governments. They raised two children in Berkeley, and Elsa spent 30 years working with graduate students in the Cal sociology department.

She joined BPWA more than a decade ago and met longtime BPWA volunteer and board member Charlie Bowen, who quickly put her to work building steps for a new path. Colleen Neff, former BPWA president, recommended Tranter for the board and became a good friend; she is often along for the beach clean-up brigade, with camera in hand.

Her desire to clean up Bay Area beaches may have had its genesis in her long-running efforts to clean up Berkeley’s paths. Together with board member Mary Lynch, Tranter launched BPWA’s monthly path maintenance parties.

By the time you read this, Tranter will have cleaned up another Bay Area beach. Or two.

“There’s just so much trash,” Tranter says. “People eat a bag of potato chips, and throw it on the ground. I think it’s unfortunate.”