Plastic Pollution Reaches Fish Thousand of Miles Away in the Ocean

In 2009, researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography traveled across to North Pacific Subtropical Gyre to reseach effects of plastic pollution on sealife. During the long periods of sampling and testing, Scripps found that nearly 9 percent of fish caught during the research expedition had pieces of plastic in their stomachs. The number may seem low, but the researchers think it’s an underestimated as many fish may pass the plastic item or even die from it. They estimated that the fish in North Pacific alone ingest 12,000-24,000 tons of plastic pollution a year. However, in 2008, a group of researchers from Costa Mesa and Long Beach conducted tests in the North Pacific Central Gyre to find out that nearly 35 percent of fish ingested plastic, averaging 2.1 plastic pieces per fish. These two studies from different regions of the North Pacific Gyre reveal one fact: plastic pollution is harming marine life on a global scale.

Eighty percent of this plastic pollution comes from land-based sources, from us. The North Pacific Gyre (even though thousand miles away from us) has waste that keeps coming from our shores every day. Plastic can’t and won’t disappear. It hides “somewhere” in the middle of the ocean slowly breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces. Marine life, which mistake it for food, suffers unknowingly, and thus begins the process of plastics making it into our food chain.


What does this mean for San Diego? Even though Coastkeeper, volunteers and partnering organizations conducted numerous beach cleanups over the years, we still need to make a substantial effort to stop pollution for good. It’s important to mention that beach cleanups are not just calls for volunteers to help the community, they are calls on a broader scale – to end pollution, preserve marine life, take responsibility and educate ourselves to be proactive, not just reactive. We need to learn to be responsible Earth residents and to stop ignorantly polluting our beaches, bays and rivers. Coastkeeper helps in this proactive cause by collecting data at each cleanup and translating that into a serious need for policy change when it comes to plastic pollution.

The reality is that we can’t travel to the middle of the Pacific Ocean to get all the garbage out, but we can stop the source. Remember, the era of plastic only began in late 1900s and what’s collecting in our ocean consists 90 percent of plastic.

Another way to stop pollution is to speak up to your elected officials. And convince business owners to do the same. When the #3 item counted at our cleanups is plastic foam pieces, and after the cleanup you get some food to-go in a Styrofoam container, it’s worth it to speak up to the restaurant and tell them what you see on the beach. With small acts of education, and getting business owners to care about the same issues, we will make the gradual change we want to see in the world.Can you think of anything you do every day that might be a threat to our oceans? For example, I used to buy a big plastic case of water bottle every week. But when I joined Coastkeeper and learned the real facts about plastic and its pollution, I decided to change my tactic. Being a big (clean) water drinker, I wanted to have a bottle with me all the time. So I bought a reusable water bottle and started to fill it up from big gallons I fill at the local water store. Not only did it became cheaper in the long-run, it was (and still is) also very convenient.

Surely, we all have something we can think of every day that may be a threat to the ocean. It might be something small and insignificant, but it all adds up in a good way. Start small and over the time the deeds will accumulate. Plus, don’t forget to remind your friends and family how important it is to avoid polluting, showing that you have their best interest at heart.

Let’s start making impact every day!

Coastal Pollution: A Whale of a Problem

Plastic pollution is a big problem for San Diego’s beaches – in fact, you might call it a whale of a problem.  What better way to draw attention to it than with a whale made of plastic?  L’il Gray, a life-size gray whale made from beach trash, will be installed in the hallway of the San Diego Coastkeeper office, and is the star of our show on July 1.  San Diego Coastkeeper will team up with other local museums for one night only to showcase the nautical artwork of tLil_Gray1wo unique local artists.  While you’re here, you can explore the rest of Liberty Station’s museums and shops and enjoy entertainment and refreshment as part of the monthly Friday Night Liberty event.

Marine debris is a major concern for San Diego’s beaches.  Plastic pollution is one of the more problematic kinds, because once plastic makes its way into the ocean, it does not biodegrade, but instead just breaks into smaller pieces that can be mistaken for food by aquatic creatures.  They also make their way to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch , joining the other 3.5 million tons of plastic pieces in a soup out there.  Help Coastkeeper raise awareness of the issue by attending our Coastal Pollution: A Whale of a Problem.

The artists:

•    Teresa Espaniola is the artist who coordinated L’il Gray.  This artist collects trash from the beaches near her home and uses it in her gARTbage series.  She also works with children to teach them about marine debris and plastic pollution through art.

•    Myles McGuinness is a color photographer.  His work has appeared in American Advertising Federation (AAF), California Surf Museum, National Geographic, The Surfer’s Journal, Surfing & Surfer magazines and most recently in the Communication Arts 2010 Photo Annual. He is also the creative mind behind San Diego Coastkeeper’s website and annual report.

Join us on July 1, 2011 from 5:00-8:00pm at the Coastkeeper office at 2825 Dewey Road Suite 200, San Diego CA 92106 to mingle with Coastkeeper art aficionados and beach activists alike.  Enjoy light refreshments and music while meandering our hallway and perusing the art. Photo Credit: Nick Morris for North County Times

Published in Marine Debris

Forget June Gloom: It’s Balloon Gloom at La Jolla Shores Cleanups

This is the sixth of a 10-part blog series examining the nature of ASBS, the threats they face and the actions we can take to protect these biological hotspots for future San Diegans.

Last Saturday, San Diego Coastkeeper joined forces with our friends at Surf Diva and 25 volunteers to cleanup La Jolla Shores. Surf_Diva_Coastkeeper_La_Jolla_shores_cleanupStaging on the street and not the beach helped volunteers focus on the gutters, parking lots, sidewalks, and bus stops heavy with foot traffic and litter. The volunteers collected 30 pounds of trash, counting top items such as cigarette butts, food wrappers, and plastic foam pieces.

Over the past four years, San Diego Coastkeeper has facilitated over 20 cleanups around La Jolla Shores to help reduce marine debris entering the water. Considering the importance of pollution prevention in Areas of Special Biological Significance (ASBS), our cleanup work is valuable in highlighting common pollutants (litter) and engaging community members in helping keep La Jolla clean. We do this by asking volunteers to work in teams and complete data cards while they collect trash – and our cleanup data tells an interesting story. Here are some highlights:

balloons_marine_debris1. Balloon Gloom: Volunteers collected more than 800 balloons and strings from the La Jolla shores area since 2007. This value is many times higher than most other area beaches. Some of those washed up tangled with drifting kelp at the high tide line, and some were leftover or released from birthday parties and events at Kellogg Park.

2. Volunteerism has steadily dropped at La Jolla Shores cleanups over the past 4 years. Our 2007 cleanup boasted 283 volunteers, and last year’s event hosted only 59 people dedicated to cleaning up the area. Many volunteers worry about parking and transport, while others think the area is so clean that it doesn’t need the help (it does!).

3. La Jolla Shores is one of the “cleanest” beaches in San Diego County, based on the pounds of trash collected per volunteer. The average amount since 2007 is below a value of 1 pound per volunteer, which places it high amongst the ranks of other clean beaches such as Torrey Pines and Del Mar.


4. Single-use & plastic products dominate La Jolla Shores’ top ten. Coastkeeper and friends have been fighting hard to stop pollution from single-use plastics by helping the public switch to sustainable alternatives, such as reusable water bottles, bags, and Tupperware®. And even though smoking is banned on the beach, we still count a lot of cigarette butts right next to the beach – between 1200 and 2000 per cleanup each year.

After the cleanup, I met some friends for a beautiful SCUBA dive inside the marine reserve at La Jolla Cove. I tried not to get upset by the two abandoned lobster traps I saw (one with a big sheep crab traped inside), and instead focused on the beauty and peacefulness under the kelp forest. We saw two giant sea bass, a 4ft shovel nose guitarfish, and a stunning new-to-me nudibranch called Hopkins Rose, and it was a day well spent in our ASBS.


Published in Marine Debris

Join the Fight Against Plastic Foam Syndrome

San Diego suffers from Plastic Foam Syndrome. With more than 25,000 pieces of plastic foam littering our beaches each year, Coastkeeper is taking an active stance against the most unsustainable take-out material known to man: plastic foam  Our advocacy work in the City of San Diego and Sacramento is supporting policy change to get to the root problems of our litter and marine debris woes in San Diego County. With 48 California cities taking a stand against plastic foam via ordinances, its shocking to note that NONE of those foam-free cities are in San Diego County. Hopefully Coastkeeper’s work can pave the way for us to catch up with the rest of the state, and perhaps reduce cleanup costs at the same time.
oceano-plastifico-Proyecto_FronterizoOn a local level, we have been working with the City of San Diego’s Mayors office and Environmental Services Department to limit internal purchases of and permissions to distribute plastic foam at City permitted events. This will likely come in the format of changes to the requirements of the City’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program (EP3), as well as changes to the permit applications for events through Special Events, Parks & Recreation, the Water Department, and Qualcomm Stadium. Making this move will be a huge step in the direction of sustainability, and help San Diego fulfill its obligations as a Green City of California . Download our Letter to the Mayor’s office and City Councilmembers for more details about our position, and contact me if you want to become more involved in this process.

On a statewide level, we are actively supporting SB 568 , a bill that would ban the distribution of polystyrene foam by all food vendors across California. The bill should hit the Senate Floor around mid-May 2011, and it will be a close vote to get it to the Assembly committees. Senator Kehoe has expressed her support, but we have not had confirmation that Senator Vargas is in favor of reducing litter in this way. We need champions in Vargas’ district (Chula Vista, Imperial Beach, and parts of Riverside/Imperial counties) – from individuals to restaurants to community groups – to speak up to him. You can call his Chula Vista Office ((619) 409-7690) use the contact form on his website, or contact Coastkeeper for draft email/fax/snail mail language or if you want to help organize in this area.

Supporting Coastkeeper’s work on plastic pollution reduction is more important now than ever. Your membership and donations help us put more time to working on these issues and reducing litter throughout San Diego County. Plus you get a cool reusable water bottle to do your part to stop Plastic Foam Syndrome.

[1] Coastkeeper is no longer using the term StyrofoamTM to refer to single-use take out products such as cups, clamshells, and plates because of this clarification by its maker Dow Chemical. Other groups refer to it as extruded polystyrene or expanded polystyrene (EPS), but Coastkeeper is keeping it simple at plastic foam. No matter what we call it, its bad for our beaches.

Published in Marine Debris

Coastkeeper goes International – Talking Trash in Hawaii

At the end of March 2011, I was fortunate to spend five days immersed in plastic pollution and marine debris at the 5th International Marine Debris Conference in Honolulu, Hawai’i.  Hosted by NOAA and the United Nations Environment Program , 450 truly dedicated researchers, educators, policy folk, industry, agencies, and artists who are actively working to highlight the problem of trash in the ocean all came together for the first time in ten years. In addition to putting smiling faces to big names in the field of marine debris , I presented about Coastkeeper’s beach cleanup data , our leadership in waste reduction at cleanups, and our education efforts including Signs of the Tide and Project SWELL .

I learned a lot, and am highlighting some key points for you below:
1.    There is a LOT of trash and plastic out there. As the Ocean Conservancy released their 25-year report on Coastal Cleanup Day highlighting the removal of millions of pounds of trash, other operations were reporting tons of fishing gear washing up on remote islands in the Bering Sea, and sea turtles pooping plastic bags for a month . Perhaps marine microbes burrowing into plastic are contributing to the breakdown of floating debris, but it’s still a massive problem deserving our attention and action.

2.   Science is the key to marine debris solutions. While there are many excellent scientists studying marine debris and its impacts, there are many gaps in research and needs for information to better inform policy change. Even citizen science is going to be essential – and collecting data at our beach cleanups is an important piece of the puzzle for identifying problem items and reducing debris at sea.

3.    The plastics industry MUST be at the table, but we can’t let them put their fingers in everything. While they may tout their commitment to reducing marine debris , representatives of single-use plastic makers will again and again state that recycling and education are the solutions to reducing marine debris. We all know that these things are a part of the effort, but source reduction and better pollution policies will get us to zero discharge a heck of a lot faster. Unfortunately, with a lot of money on the line, they can also pay to hire biased people to write the reports about marine debris and even sway the focus of government agencies and large organizations towards undertaking only activities that will not harm the bottom line of their member industries. Even if that means continued plastic pollution .

4.    Even plastic pollution can be reused – as a piece of art. Dozens of marine debris artists converged at the conference to showcase their unique way of reaching the public: art. We are supporting this work locally by collecting funky trash for local artist Teresa Espaniola , who hosted a workshop at the conference. Stay tuned for more art projects in our future.

One of the outcomes of the conference is still currently under construction: a Honolulu Strategy for the reduction of marine debris. An international framework for action, this document is taking input from all conference attendees and creating guidelines for future action. With all the energy in the room when Jack Johnson closed out the conference with a live performance of his Reduce Reuse Recycle Song, there is hope that the marine debris community will continue to collaborate for solutions and strive for zero input of plastics to the ocean. There is hope.


Published in Marine Debris

Coastkeeper Wins Addy Awards


Our designer Myles McGuinness also takes the best water shots. This is from a photo shoot for this year’s annual report. You can see a full selection of his photos by visiting his online portfolio.

Last week, I had the pleasure of representing San Diego Coastkeeper at the San Diego Ad Club’s annual ADDY Awards gala. The ADDYs are an awards competition for the advertising industry, which recognizes creative work in a variety of categories such as online, print, campaigns and more.

I was surrounded by the big guys.

I’m happy to say that San Diego Coastkeeper won a silver AND a people’s choice for our 2009 annual report and a bronze for our marketing campaign featuring our new brand image, annual report, website and collateral.

While it’s our first ADDY recognition, our designer Myles McGuinness at 9Myles, Inc, has won them previously. I feel very fortunate that Myles has a soft spot for the ocean and extends his extremely talented and creative skills to us. From helping us freshen our brand, design a beautiful and helpful website and present our work in a compelling package, Myles understands and lives our mission.

Our course, we had a few other friends help out with this creative overhaul. Matthew Meier graciously offers us his inspiring underwater photography and Israel Farrer at Interactive Media Group keeps our website functioning at a steal of a deal.

I was honored to have a seat next to the large powerhouse advertising agencies and to share in the spotlight. And I’m thankful for the dedicated professionals in San Diego who share their coveted talents with our organization to help us continue setting the bar higher in San Diego.

But so what about winning Addys for our creative work? This recognition means many things:

  • Our approachable and trusted brand helps us reach out to new audiences to educate them on water issues
  • Our sophisticated communication programs allow us to create impactful partnerships with funders and corporate donors
  • Our beautiful design allows us to approach dirty topics (like sewage) without visually offending readers
  • Our organization is fun–and who wouldn’t want to get involved with something like that.

It truly takes a community to protect our inland and coastal waters. If you belong to a business in San Diego looking to connect in meaningful ways–now is the time to join us.

Beach Cleanups Exposed: Beyond the Beach

As mentioned in yesterday’s blog post about the Ocean Conservancy’s 25-year report, the data extracted from beach cleanups can influence political, industrial and social change.  Take a long walk on this beach with me…


Cigarette butts have long since been the number one item found by Coastkeeper on San Diego’s beaches.  This is the same the world over, and has held its number one spot for the past 25 years.  Because of this statistic, garnished from our data collection, this hard evidence was used to support a smoking ban on our beaches and parks which passed in 2006.  Our cleanup data allows us to identify problems, track their the source, design solutions and take action by advocating for the solution.  

So, what are the sources?  Nine out of the top ten items of the past 25 years were disposable consumer items.  These items clearly do not belong in the environment.  They are threats to local and global eco-systems as they entangle wildlife, infiltrate the food chain and photodegrade into microplastics that can never be cleaned up.  We try to eliminate the source of these items, but we as consumers create the demand for them.  Fortunately, they are not a necessity.  We can easily bring our own bag, bottle or to-go ware; it is simply that we are so comfortable with the convenience of these disposable plastics, we can’t be bothered to remember.  In order to help us along, we must influence the supply to lessen the demand, thus eliminating these one-time-use, wasteful items as an option.  Policy change in response to single-use plastic has been happening all over the globe to reduce the land waste and hazards to the ocean.  This is a solution to eliminate the “source” of marine debris.

Policy change:

  • As of 2008, it is illegal to give away single-use plastic bags in China—previously the TOP consumer of single-use plastic bags.
  • A 2002 bag levy in Ireland led to usage drop of 90%.
  • Washington, D.C., implemented a 5 cent bag fee and a saw usage drop significantly from 22.5 million bags in 2009 to 3 million bags in 2010.
  • Italy became the first country to outright BAN the single-use plastic bag on January 1, 2011.
  • San Francisco was the first U.S. city to ban the single-use plastic bag in 2007.
  • In 1990, Virginia volunteers picked up 30 pounds of balloons; by 1991 a law was passed to prohibit mass balloon releases.



Another way to track the source even further back is by working directly with the industries that manufacture these items.  Decreasing landfill space in Europe sparked a trendy tactic called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), designed to promote the integration of environmental costs associated with goods throughout their life cycles into the market price of the products.  Basically necessitating that the manufacturer covers the costs of recycling or proper disposal, and makes sure it happens.  

Innovative Industry changes we have seen:

  • Coca Cola created a 30% plant-based soda bottle in 2009.
  • Pepsi launched their 100% plant-based soda bottle in March.
  • Electrolux is making vacuum cleaners out of photo-degraded plastic bits from the Eastern Pacific Gyre.
  • Nike gave their 2010 World Cup soccer teams jerseys made from 100% recycled polyester.  They collected 13 million plastic bottles from Japanese and Taiwanese landfills, melted to produce yarn, converted to fabric for about 8 bottles per shirt.
  • Jack Johnson displaced 55,000 plastic water bottles on his 2010 US summer tour by providing water stations with filtered water.

Locally, businesses can get involved in being a part of the solution and data collection effort by sponsoring a beach cleanup through Coastkeeper.  In April, Earth Month, seven of our 11 cleanups are with local organizations or corporations (Pepsi, Peregrine Semiconductors, Cox Communications, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Source 44, 31st Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation, as well as partnering on an event with Whole Foods.


All marine initiatives depend on residents who understand why the ocean needs to be protected and preserved in order to build the connection and motivation for how.  The Ocean Conservancy’s report is a wonderful resource to help inform communities and it is available to be shared. Coastkeeper makes cutting edge ocean and water-related information readily available both online as well as through our quarterly Signs of the Tide outreach events. Fortunately, because of our data from inland and coastal beach cleanups, coupled with the geographically broad data supplied by the International Coastal Cleanup Day, our approach to tackling marine debris has become much more sophisticated.  As long as the volunteers keep coming to help collect this essential data, we can continue protecting and preserving our waterways.

Published in Marine Debris

Beach Cleanups Exposed: The Ocean Conservancy’s 25 Year Report on Marine Debris

Coastkeeper loves beach cleanups.

coastal-cleanup-day-san-diegoWe host at the very least two beach cleanups a month.  Aside from the obvious—we want beautiful beaches and healthy oceans—why?  So much more rides on these cleanups.  Ocean Conservancy just published a report titled “Talking Trash: 25 Years of Action for the Ocean,” which provides a 25-year look at the trash and other marine debris found on beaches and in the water. It is intended to educate the public and leaders in government and industry to make strides in preventing marine debris from choking our ocean and waterways.  Thus giving a broader perspective on why cleanups can influence political, industrial and social change.

The report is based on data collected over the past 25 years from Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup Day (ICC).  ICC is the largest volunteer effort for the ocean, bringing out hundreds of thousands of volunteers from around the world to remove millions of pounds of trash and debris from beaches, lakes and waterways while recording every piece of trash that is found.  Alongside monthly, sponsored, and beach cleanups in a box, Coastkeeper works with I Love a Clean San Diego to host Coastal Cleanup Day in San Diego County, which serves as a significant source of statistical information for this global effort, as well as a wonderful event to spread awareness and remove pollution in San Diego.  The data from the cleanups is collected and analyzed to give insight into the global problem of marine debris.  
What sets these cleanups apart is the strictly regimented counting of each item that is collected from the cleanup.  Each volunteer is trained and made responsible for recording exactly what is found.  This is the crucial step to why the cleanups are a necessary element of ocean pollution prevention.

Because of the data collected at the annual Coastal Cleanup Day and Coastkeeper’s monthly cleanups, we have a clear idea of the specific items and products affecting our oceans and waterways, thus facilitating creation of preventative programs and strategies.  This information helps us educate our government and community, so we can work together on the solutions.  Ocean Conservancy and Coastkeeper use similar data collecting procedures; Coastkeeper keeps track of every piece of trash collected at any of our beach cleanups by distributing data cards or itemized lists for volunteers to keep a tally of apprehended items.  The 25-year report recorded that over the past 25 years, 9 million volunteers in 150+ countries picked up 166 million pieces of trash across just under 300,000 miles; which provides the first ever analysis of long-term trends.

Read the beach cleanup report.  And get involved to make a difference in San Diego and join us for a beach cleanup.

Published in Marine Debris

World Water Day: Lessons from Nicaragua

In honor of world water day, I wanted to share what I learned in my recent week-long trip to Nicaragua.  Nicaragua is a beautiful country, and everyone we met was friendly and helpful.  My cousin and I stayed at a wonderful resort, Mango Rosa , located just outside of San Juan del Sur, on the Pacific coast approximately 2 hours from the Managua Airport.  

On the drive from the airport to the resort, there was one thing I could not ignore: the miles and miles of trash lining the road . And while there were various types of trash along the road, it was clear that the vast majority of the trash was plastic—plastic bottles and Nicaragua’s ubiquitous pink plastic single-use bag.


Trash on a Typical Street in Nicaragua

The second thing I noticed after all the trash along the road was the countless number of people walking along the road and carrying a pink plastic single-use bag.  Nearly everyone had one; no wonder they were scattered along the roadside.

Later in the week, I was fortunate enough to take a horseback riding trip to Playa Majagual and Playa Maderas, two of the local beaches. I was stunned by the number of plastic bottles along the dirt road leading from the beach, particularly since there were only a few houses dotted along route.  In fact, in a 400-yard stretch, I counted 33 plastic bottles along the road.

As I glanced at these plastic bottles marring the otherwise-stunning landscape, they smiled back at me proudly with their American labels:  Coca-Cola™, Powerade™, Sprite™…

When I tried to talk about the litter issue with some of the staff at the resort, they were quite defensive. They explained that most parts of Nicaragua do not have trash collection services and most people do not have cars.  Mango Rosa was less than a mile from the local dump, where they collected and burned trash, but it was up to individuals to bring the trash to the dump.  If people did not have a way to get the trash to the dump, it would often end up scattered along the side of a road, or across the countryside, or lining the beaches.

San Diego Coastkeeper has long-recognized the connection between inland trash and litter issues and marine debris issues.  In fact, our last Signs of the Tide event, “The Great Trash Migration” explored this very issue while I was traveling in Nicaragua.  If you missed the event, you can still see all the presentations here.

What I took away from my Nicaragua trip was that, whether we realize it or not, we as Americans set an example for the rest of the world.  We’ve exported to Nicaragua our concept of a throw-away society, one where our lives are full of singlplastic_bottlese-use plastic bags and bottles.  But in Nicaragua’s case, they do not yet have the infrastructure—the trash collection and recycling facilities—to handle the massive volumes of plastic such a lifestyle generates.  The result?  Our American throw-away habits are shamefully on display along the roadsides and hillsides and beaches in Nicaragua.

On World Water Day I challenge each of us to set a better example for our neighbors.  Bring your own reusable bag to the grocery store and say “No!” to single-use plastic bags.   Carry your own refillable water bottle.   Support Coastkeeper’s work to clean-up trash along our coast and in our waterways and to convince the City Council to stop using City funds to buy bottled water, except in emergencies.  By becoming a member of San Diego Coastkeeper, you can support our work and get a free “I bottle my own” reusable water bottle. Only once we set a better example for our neighbors, can we help our neighbors to take the first step to solving their trash and marine debris problems.

Published in Sick of Sewage

Stormwater Management to Community Cleanups: Keeping San Diego Clean

trash-inland-cleanupOnce litter gets out into the environment, it starts to move. It’s the Great Trash Migration. The ultimate destination is our ocean, but the trash starts many miles inland, and through a series of encounters with wind, rain and creeks, it sneaks its way into the Pacific.

According to City Councilman Todd Gloria, the City of San Diego removed 6,500 tons of debris with the street sweeping program last year. Even more astounding, cleanup efforts removed more than 38 tons from Chollas Creek alone.

But efforts by the cities aren’t enough to keep this trash from impacting more than 275 marine species, especially when estimates show that more than 80% of marine debris starts on land.

About 100 people gathered at San Diego Coastkeeper’s office in Liberty Station last night for its Signs of the Tide public forum exploring The Great Trash Migration. Moderated by Councilman Gloria, the evening included presentations from Coastkeeper’s Education and Marine Debris Manager Alicia Glassco; VP of EDCO Waste and Recycling Jeff Ritchie; Chief Deputy Director of the State Water Resources Control Board Jon Bishop; and Friend of Olivia Canyon Organizer John Hanley.

Alicia poured through data from cleanups she helps organize with partner organizations, noting that inland cleanup sites tend to see major trash like furniture, car hoods, illegal dumping and transient camps. And while the pounds of debris per volunteer that are removed on the beach tend to be much smaller, in 2010 alone volunteers removed 25,000 pieces of Styrofoam. These small pieces of litter are collectively very dangerous because marine animals mistake them for food and often end up dying from starvation.

inland-trash-san-diegoJeff shared that in San Diego County, the average person produces over one ton of trash each year.  His historical perspective of the trash pickup and management system showed how it has changed over the years. Initially, it was just one truck that picked up all trash and delivered it to the landfill, but after regulations changed in the ‘90s, the system started picking up trash in three categories: trash, co-mingled recyclables and green waste. Of the co-mingled items, most material goes overseas to the Pacific Rim (except for glass and aluminum) because there’s a healthy market that pays a high price for those materials.

Jon highlighted regulations for stormwater management in San Francisco and Los Angeles that have paved the way for statewide regulations. According to his data, its commercial and industrial industries that cause 80% of the trash entering our storm drains. And it’s the plastic pellet—the nurdle—that most keeps him up at night. While nurdles are only manufactured in Texas and the majority of the problem areas are industrial locations in areas like Orange County and Los Angeles, he said they’ve found nurdles on every beach from Mexico to Oregon.

What’s the solution to the Great Trash Migration?

John says, “It really has to do with working together and forming partnerships to keep our canyons clean.”

To join our efforts, become a member now or check our events calendar for the next cleanup.

Published in Marine Debris