In This Section
Surprise finding heightens concern over tiny bits of plastic polluting our oceans
The fight over plastic grocery bags
California's plastic-bag ban put on hold by ballot referendum
Study: World dumps 8.8 million tons of plastics into oceans
We could end up with 'as much plastic in our oceans as fish'
- View Archive
Keeping Trash out of Coastal AreasTrash is accumulating in California’s waters and on its beaches at an alarming rate. Some areas in the Pacific Ocean have been found to contain one million pieces of plastic in a single square kilometer. Scientists estimate that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a massive collection of plastic and other marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean, is roughly twice the size of the state of Texas. Making matters worse, on March 11, 2011, a powerful tsunami hit Japan, destroying cities and villages, and carrying tons of debris out to sea. Ocean currents are projected to carry some of that debris to U.S. shores, including the West Coast.
The majority of marine debris (60-80%) is plastic. Plastic is especially harmful to the marine ecosystem because of its buoyancy, ability to accumulate and concentrate toxins in the environment, and durability. Plastic never biodegrades, it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. Small plastic bits are easily confused for food by sea birds, whales, and sea lions that accidentally ingest it or feed it to their young.
The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that 80% of marine debris comes from land-based sources, particularly storm water runoff. When it rains, cigarette butts, plastic bags, styrofoam, and plastic bottles wash into storm drains that empty into our creeks, bays, beaches and ocean. Marine debris such as lost lines, nets, traps and other fishing gear also originates from vessels and other sea-based sources. Derelict fishing gear is particularly harmful to fish, seals and other marine life because it was specifically designed to entangle, trap, and kill aquatic life and can remain in the environment for decades repeating the harm.
Some California municipalities are taking initiative to regulate and ban non-degradable packaging, including plastic bags. Regional Water Quality Control Boards are also working to reduce trash in our waterways by setting clear limits, called "Total Maximum Daily Loads" (TMDLs) on the amount of trash that cities can allow to flow into their storm drains. The California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) has identified several strategies to reduce marine debris, ranging from banning smoking on state beaches to education and clean-up initiatives, some of which have been introduced as state legislation.
CCKA Is Taking Action
CCKA works to reduce the volume of polluted storm water runoff that carries trash to waterways, beaches and the ocean. CCKA, in close coordination with local Waterkeepers, is also pressing Regional Water Boards to establish clear and binding numeric limits on the amount of trash that cities can discharge through their storm drains, and to support cleanup programs. CCKA drafted detailed comments on the State Water Board's proposed Trash Policy to advance zero trash in our waterways. CCKA serves on a public advisory group to advise the State Water Board’s development of the Trash Policy. The Trash Policy will be released for public comment in mid-March, and is scheduled for adoption by mid-June 2014. As currently drafted, the Trash Policy would be a huge step forward to prevent trash from reaching California’s waters; it would be a national model. Click here to learn more about the upcoming release of the draft Trash Policy.
CCKA also works to identify waters with particularly serious trash pollution through the Clean Water Act “303(d) listing process.” An important part of this work is improving the public’s understanding of local water quality problems through a series of maps depicting the state’s most polluted waterways and beaches. CCKA also runs workshops that enable citizens to take action on this issue in their communities. CCKA coordinates its efforts with conservation groups across the state in support of broad initiatives that address California’s persistent and growing problems with marine debris.
Guide to the Trash Policy
CCKA (February 2015)
Comments Supporting the OPC's Trash Resolution
CCKA (August 2014)
CCKA Comments on the Trash Policy
CCKA et al. (August 2014)
State Water Board's Trash Policy Overview
State Water Board (April 2013)
The Cost To West Coast Communities Of Dealing With Trash, Reducing Marine Debris
U.S. EPA (September 2012)
2011 California Coastal Cleanup Trash Policy Letter
CCKA et al. (October 2011)
Plastic Debris in the California Marine Ecosystem
OPC (September 2011)
Leading the Way Toward a Clean Ocean
Environment California (July 2011)
Heal the Bay's 2011 Beach Report Card
Heal the Bay (May 2011)
Quick Guide to Marine Debris
CCKA (March 2011)
Comments on the State Water Board's Trash Policy
CCKA (November 2010)
Plastic Bag Ban Ordinance Template
Clean Seas Coalition (September 2010)
Marine Debris Fact Sheet
Implementation Strategy to Reduce and Prevent Ocean Litter
Ocean Protection Council (November 2008)
NOAA Marine Debris Report
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (August 2008)
Eliminating Land-Based Sources of Debris
California Coastal Commission (June 2006)