Tackling Trash

undefinedKeeping Trash out of Coastal Areas

Trash 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

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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.