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Heal the Bay Blog

Category: Plastic Pollution

Today on #WorldWaterDay we celebrate women environmentalists who saw a problem, spoke up, and changed the world.

Women are impacted by environmental issues like water pollution and climate change at disproportionate rates as a result of systemic inequity.1 Harmful stereotypes and a lack of access to education, economic status, and health resources often leave women and people of color out of the conversations that impact them, specifically about land use, natural resources, and environmental policy decision-making.

Despite these challenges, environmentalists of color and women continue to be on the front lines of creating change. Get to know these 5 women environmentalists who have created an inspiring and bold legacy of activism.

Wangari Maathai (1940 – 2011), Kenya

Founder of the Green Belt Movement, which has planted over 51 million trees, Professor Maathai focused on environmental conservation and women’s rights. She studied biology in her undergraduate and graduate school programs and later won the Nobel Peace Prize for her vast contributions to sustainable development.

 

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Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores (1971 – 2016), Honduras

Berta Cáceres was an indigenous environmental justice activist and grassroots leader who created the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations (COPINH) in Honduras. She fought courageously against illegal and harmful mining and logging as well as the construction of a dam that would cut off water, food and medicine for the indigenous Lenca people. Cáceres Flores was tragically murdered in 2016, sparking international outrage. The Cáceres family continues to demand justice for this corrupt violation of human rights. 2

 

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Isatou Ceesay (b. 1972), The Gambia

Isatou Ceesay is known as the Queen of Recycling in The Gambia, and rightfully so. Though she was kept from finishing school, she created the Njai Recycling and Income Generation Group, which turns plastic bag waste into purses, creating revenue streams for local women. Ceesay also educates and empowers women through environmental advocacy.

 

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Winona LaDuke (b. 1959), White Earth Indian Reservation

Founder of the White Earth Land Recovery Project and Honor the Earth, LaDuke is an environmentalist and political activist with Indigenous communities. She focuses on sustainable development, renewable energy, climate change, and environmental justice. The White Earth Land Recovery Project is one of the largest non-profit organizations in the United States dedicated to recovering original land and maintaining tribal food, water, and energy rights.

 

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Dorothy Green (1929 – 2008), Los Angeles

Founder of Heal the Bay, the late Dorothy Green was a celebrated environmental and grassroots activist in California who stopped millions of gallons of sewage from being dumped into the Pacific Ocean and changed water policy in California. She also created the Los Angeles & San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council (now the Council of Watershed Health). Her goal was to restore and preserve the ecological health of the ocean and watersheds and advocate for better water quality in the Los Angeles region. Her legacy lives on today in our organization’s mission.

In honor of National Women’s History Month, we thank these women environmentalists, from around the world, who fought for what was right despite facing strong opposition for simply being who they were. Women and girls are leaders in their communities and agents of change. Supporting and listening to them will benefit the health of our planet for generations to come.

 


About the author: Mariana Estrada is a digital advocacy intern at Heal the Bay. She grew up in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles where she enjoys a lively community of close-knit families and great food. She became interested in environmental issues like air quality at an unusually young age due to living in the city. Estrada’s area of focus is combining humanities and environmental issues to create effective and meaningful storytelling that renders real results. She studies English Literature and double-minors in Environmental Systems and Society and Environmental Engineering at UCLA.

1 Gender and climate change-induced migration: Proposing a framework for analysis. Author Namrata Chindarkar. Published by School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, College Park, USA. Published on 22 June 2012. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254496452_Gender_and_climate_change-induced_migration_Proposing_a_framework_for_analysis
2 Berta Cáceres: 2015 Goldman Prize Recipient South and Central America. Published by The Goldman Environmental Prize. Retrieved from https://www.goldmanprize.org/recipient/berta-caceres/



Sustainable shopping is not just a trend – it may help save the world. However, the biggest impact we can make is creating comprehensive environmental policy that ensures equitable access to sustainable choices. One person can make a difference. One business can make a difference. And, so can we, as one community. For Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting two businesses run by women of color who are proving that it’s possible to be successful, sustainable, and make a positive social impact.

Shopping can be therapeutic for most. The instant gratification of hitting the “Buy Now” button or the bliss of un-bagging all the items purchased at the mall is irresistible. Though these experiences can gift us temporary relief, collectively they are extremely harmful to our environment.

From the abundance of unnecessary plastic packaging that winds up in landfills, communities, and ecosystems to the spewing of thousands of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere during production and transportation, we need to see clearly that consumerism in the United States has contributed negatively to the health of our natural environment as well as our own health.

So how do we solve this issue — and quickly?

We all should hold ourselves responsible for making the right choice to safeguard the places we call home. It’s hard to imagine one’s individual impact from switching to an electric car, when fuel efficiency standards are threatened by the White House, or switching to be vegan to reduce their water and carbon footprints when farms aren’t required to reduce methane emissions.

Our individual decisions do cumulatively make a big impact. So it is especially important for consumers to shop ethically and sustainably while simultaneously demanding environmentally-responsible policies.

Our Power in Choice

As consumers, we have the power to choose companies that make a difference. And this is something worth acknowledging and celebrating. What’s exciting is that thousands of companies are actively developing innovative solutions. Meet these two company leaders in the beverage industry who are making a positive impact.


(Photo of Sashee Chandran, Founder and CEO of Tea Drops)

Tea Drops is a tea company created by Sashee Chandran, a Chinese-Sri Lankan American woman, that offers customers a locally-sourced, quality bag less tea that cuts out unnecessary waste. This process is markedly different than other tea products where polypropylene is used to make the tea bags.


(Photo of bag less tea by Tea Drops)

Sales of Tea Drops products support the Los Angeles-based, Thirst Project, by funding one year of clean water for someone in need – so choosing Tea Drops over other options not only reduces one’s waste footprint, but also contributes to water justice.

Another company promoting ethical production is Grosche, started by Helmi Ansari and Mehreen Sait, Pakistani Canadian partners. The company was built on the idea of ‘profit for change’ as opposed to profit for personal gain. They commit to funding 50-days of safe water for every product sold, including their adorable Shark Tea Infuser.


(Photo of Helmi Ansari and Mehreen Sait, Founders of Grosche)

Grosche has diverted 91% of landfill waste, uses 100% renewable energy, maintains a zero-carbon footprint, and has planted 10,000 trees in Africa and Haiti, while running a banana plantation in South Sudan to help grow food and create income for the local community. Biosand filters that purify water for 10 people, up to 25-30 years, are also offered to communities and families in need.


(Photo of the Shark Tea Infuser by Grosche)

Tea Drops and Grosche are incredible businesses moving in the right direction toward a sustainable future. We can’t stop there. We need to take their lead and advocate for policies that hold all companies and institutions accountable for their environmental impact. And we can’t afford to wait. The recent IPCC report reveals drastic change is needed within the next 12 years to protect our food and water supplies.

When we work together, we will see real change.

Check out HOVE Social Good’s Water Power Box, which features the products listed above. Every box sold gives $1 back to Heal the Bay! And also check out the box dedicated to HER Power to celebrate Women’s History Month.

www.socialgoodboxes.com


About the author: Mariana Estrada is a digital advocacy intern at Heal the Bay. She grew up in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles where she enjoys a lively community of close-knit families and great food. She became interested in environmental issues like air quality at an unusually young age due to living in the city. Estrada’s area of focus is combining humanities and environmental issues to create effective and meaningful storytelling that renders real results. She studies English Literature and double-minors in Environmental Systems and Society and Environmental Engineering at UCLA.



Meredith McCarthy, our Operations Director, is going plastic-free for 46 days. Pray for her soul.

Each year my faith tradition gives me the gift of a 46-day reflection period called Lent. I think of it as a spring cleaning of the soul. The season starts today, Ash Wednesday. The ashes are a sign of repentance, humility and mortality. Through the placement of the ashes on the forehead, believers acknowledge we have failed to be agents of love. We acknowledge our sins and work towards renewal.

Fasting is also big part of Lent. Going without feasts has its roots in early Christian tradition. As a child in Chicago, I’d often have to give up candy, making it a truly miserable month. I thought about giving up my nightly glass of wine this Lent, for a moment. Nah, let’s not go crazy, I thought.

But divine inspiration came from appropriate places this year – the Creation Care teams at Holy Family in Pasadena and American Martyrs in Manhattan Beach. I had been asked by the Catholic congregations to give a talk about plastic’s impact on our oceans. The parishes are encouraging their congregants to go on a Styrofoam fast and give up single-use plastic for lent. It’s part of a larger movement taking place across many faith communities.

As Director of Operations at Heal the Bay, I have stood hundreds of times ankle deep in plastic on our beach. It’s moved me to tears at times. You can see what I discovered recently on Santa Monica beaches after the first winter storm in this video.

All this plastic waste laying siege to our shorelines doesn’t happen by accident. It’s the sad byproduct of our daily “feast” of convenience. As a working mother of two, I too often partake in this feast. I am busy and tired most of the time. Using the handy excuse of harried motherhood, I have tried to absolve myself. But my faith and my planet require more. There may be no better way to renew my relationship with Mother Earth than to take responsibility for my lifestyle and the harm it may cause.

“We cannot allow our seas and oceans to be littered by endless fields of floating plastic,” Pope Francis said in Laudato Si, his major encyclical on the environment. “Our active commitment is needed to confront this emergency.”

So in order to be an agent of love, my family and I are giving up single-use plastic for the next 46 days. We have our metal sporks, plates and reusable coffee cups ready to go. I still have to  Google “how to shave legs with a safety razor,” but that’s a story for another day.

Stay tuned. I will be sharing my trials and tribulations. I’ll be toting a lot of reusable items for the family with me now. I think we’re going to need a bigger handbag!



SINGLE-USE PLASTIC

It’s estimated that there will be more plastic by mass than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050.

What we’re doing: Advocating for a ban on polystyrene food and drink containers in the City and County of Los Angeles. Following the model that propelled the statewide plastic bag ban in 2014, we are fighting to rid our beaches and neighborhoods of polystyrene trash. Our volunteers have removed more than 500,000 bits of Styrofoam from beaches in L.A. County over the past decade!

What you can do: Encourage your favorite restaurants to go plastic-free voluntarily

CLIMATE CHANGE

L.A. County could lose more than half of its beaches by 2100 due to coastal erosion related to warming seas.

What we’re doing: Reducing our carbon footprint is a complicated endeavor involving multi-national agreements, but we’re committed to taking action locally. Our staff scientists are advocating for the restoration of the Ballona Wetlands and other natural buffers to climate change.  Our policy staff is advocating for infrastructure projects that capture and reuse treated wastewater, instead of piping water from up North at tremendous cost and energy use.

What you can do: If you own a car, take public transit once a week. If you aren’t a vegetarian, skip meat one day a week.

Credit: (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

POLLUTED WATER

There are roughly 175 impaired water bodies and 1,317 specific impairments* in greater L.A., meaning they exceed federal clean-water standards and require formal remediation plans.

What we’re doing: Heal the Bay holds polluters accountable by ensuring that cities adhere to their stormwater permits. These MS4 permits**, which will be renewed this year, allow dischargers to send runoff into the L.A. County stormdrain system as long as effluents do not exceed acceptable levels of metals, oils, harmful bacteria and trash. It’s a bit wonky, but watchdogging these permits is essential for maintaining safe and healthy water in our region.

What you can do: Pick up your pet waste … always. Patronize car washes that capture runoff. Reduce chemicals from reaching the sea by reducing your use of pesticides and fertilizers.


*A specific pollutant in a waterbody, measured at levels that exceed federal Water Quality Standards. Many waterbodies in the L.A. Region are impaired by multiple pollutants.

**Permits issued by the Water Quality Control Board that monitor and regulate pollution in stormwater runoff. 



“We cannot recycle our way out of our plastics problem. The only way is to eliminate its use in the first place.”  – L.A. City Councilmember Paul Krekorian.

The City of Los Angeles has long been a leader on environmental issues. The city’s plastic bag ban took effect in 2014, following years of advocacy by Heal the Bay’s science and policy team. Thanks to that effort, momentum built for a statewide ban that went into effect in 2016.

Since then, we have seen a marked reduction of single-use plastic bags in the state – some 70% reduction in bag litter, according to Californians Against Waste.

This week, the L.A. City Council made more progress toward moving forward on two new and critical goals to help reduce waste locally.

First, the Council voted unanimously Tuesday to craft a plastic straws ordinance that takes the statewide ‘single-use plastic straws on request’ policy even further. The new measure would require customers to explicitly ask for a plastic straw at all food and beverage facilities in the City of L.A., with a goal of phasing out single-use plastic straws by 2021.

Heal the Bay volunteers have removed more than 2.5 million pounds of trash from L.A County beaches, rivers and neighborhoods. Most of this trash consists of plastic, polystyrene and single-use items. Since 2000, Heal the Bay volunteers have picked up more than 126,000 straws and stirrers — these materials pose serious risks to our environment and local wildlife.

It’s becoming clear that we cannot continue to look at this plastic waste problem item-by-item; we must address it comprehensively. The negative impacts of single-use plastics on our oceans are well known. If we do not change our practices, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050 (by weight), according to a recent study.

Only a few hours after the full Council voted to move forward with drafting the Plastic Straws-On-Request Ordinance with hopes of implementing it by Earth Day 2019, its Energy, Climate Change and Environmental Justices subcommittee also voted unanimously to propose an even more comprehensive zero-waste initiative to address ALL single-use plastic waste.

The zero-waste initiative instructs the Bureau of Sanitation to analyze the feasibility of pursuing alternative approaches to waste reduction (besides recycling). Examples include measures adopted by the EU (25% reduction in plastics production by 2030) and those in Berkeley (ban all single-use foodware used by restaurants and other food establishments).

The Bureau of Sanitation will report back to the Council within 60 days with a report on its findings and recommendations for further action.

Heal the Bay is heartened to see the city taking a firm stance on the critical issue of plastic pollution. As demonstrated by the plastic bag ban, the changes that we make here in L.A. can have far reaching impacts beyond our borders.

We have the opportunity to stand by California cities like Berkeley and Santa Monica, which have pursued aggressive plastic reduction efforts. Beyond curbing waste in our home, the measure would serve as a strong example for the almost 50 million tourists who visit L.A. each year.

When L.A. makes noise, the rest of the world listens.



Big news today from City Hall. Single-use plastic straws may be phased out of Los Angeles restaurants and food establishments by 2021.

L.A. City Councilmembers Mitch O’Farrell and Nury Martinez announced the citywide Straws-on-Request initiative.

“Straws on request is another step by the L.A. City Council to remove more trash from our waste-stream, a waste-stream that currently and historically flows through the communities I represent,” said Martinez.

According to City Hall’s press release, “During the Energy, Environment, and Social Justice Committee  on Tuesday afternoon, O’Farrell instructed the Bureau of Sanitation to report back within 90 days regarding the feasibility of phasing out single-use plastic straws by 2021, and instructed Sanitation to work with the Department of Disability on methods and approaches to mitigate impacts to the disabled community associated with the phase out.”

“Plastic straws endanger our marine wildlife and they foul our lakes, streams, and rivers,” said O’Farrell. “With our economy of scale here in L.A. and a phase out, all businesses and manufacturers can join the initiative and pioneer low cost, biodegradable, disposable products.”

Heal the Bay’s ceo Shelley Luce spoke at the press conference about protecting L.A. for future generations.

“Since 2000, Heal the Bay volunteers have picked up over 121,000 straws and stirrers from Los Angeles County beaches,” said Luce. “It’s heartening to see businesses recognizing the problem and becoming part of solution.”

The Mon-straw-city made unsightly appearances in DTLA and at City Hall. Shout out to Danielle Furuichi, Heal the Bay Programs Coordinator, for rocking the straw-suit. And a special thank you to Susan Lang, Super Healer volunteer, for designing this upcycled trash costume made from 1,750 single-use plastic straws that were picked up at beach cleanups by Heal the Bay volunteers.

Stay tuned for more updates at Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Take the pledge to stop sucking at LAsucks.org.



Talia Walsh, Heal the Bay communications associate director, shares this year’s preliminary list of beach trash finds in Los Angeles, California.

Coastal Cleanup Day is an annual community volunteering effort that reveals insights about the nature of ocean pollution. The 2018 Coastal Cleanup Day event in L.A. County brought together 13,464 individuals who removed over 29.8 tons of ocean-bound trash from 78 cleanup sites in 3 hours. These piles of trash tell a compelling story.

Gleaning early results reported anecdotally by Heal the Bay’s cleanup captains and volunteers, here are this year’s most common — and weirdest — hand-picked beach trash finds in L.A.:

Beach Trash Finds in Emoji:

  1. 🥤 Plastics:  Single-use drink & food containers, Polystyrene, Tiny plastic pieces
  2. 🚬 Smoking-Related:  Cigarette butts, Lighters, Cannabis packaging
  3. ♻️ Recyclables: Glass, Paper, Metal
  4. 💉 Medical and Hygiene:  Syringes, Condoms, Diapers
  5. 💩 Feces:  Humans, Pets, Unknown
  6. 💊 Drugs:  Pipes, Powders, Pills
  7. 🎣 Fishing Gear: Traps, Hooks, Nets
  8. 🚗 Automobile Parts:  Frames, Engines, Tires
  9. 📱 Lost & Found:  Wedding Rings, Watches, Phones
  10. 👟 Shoes:  Sandals, Sneakers, Wedges
  11. 🏄🏻 Broken Boards: Surfboards, Paddleboards, Boogie boards
  12. 💼 Suitcases: Wardrobe change, please!
  13. 🔋 e-Waste: Cords, Parts, Batteries
  14.  🗡️ Weapons: Bullets, Shivs, Knives
  15. 🛴 Electric Scooters: Underwater e-scooter hunt, anyone?

Looking at the above list, it seems we need to rapidly evolve our manner of thinking about product design and usability to combat rising ocean pollution. Here are some ways to start getting involved locally:

Coastal Cleanup Day is one of 735 cleanups Heal the Bay hosts a year. Check out our Marine Debris Database that houses information for 3.5 million pieces of trash collected by Heal the Bay volunteers in Los Angeles County. See the latest water quality updates for your favorite beach by installing our new Beach Report Card app for iOS or Android — and — visit the website at beachreportcard.org for the latest grades.


View L.A. County’s results from Coastal Cleanup Day 2018


View California’s results from Coastal Cleanup Day 2018


Take Part

Check out our next beach cleanup in L.A. County! Stay tuned for the full International Report for Coastal Cleanup Day to be released in the coming months. And sign up to receive a Registration Alert for Coastal Cleanup Day 2019.

 



As summer winds down, our science and policy team has stayed busy tracking water- and ocean-friendly bills as they pass through the California legislature. Staff scientist Mary Luna provides a recap:

Plastic Straws

AB 1884 (introduced by Assemblymembers Calderon and Bloom) would prohibit a food facility from providing a single-use plastic straw to a consumer, unless the consumer requests it. This would be a great step for the state and builds upon the local work of many cities in banning plastic straws (Malibu, Santa Monica, and others) as well as Heal the Bay’s 2017 “Strawless Summer” campaign. Awaiting signature.

Smoking at Beach

SB 836 (introduced by Sen. Glazer) would ban smoking on state coastal beaches. Since 1999, Heal the Bay volunteers have collected more than 450,000 cigarette butts at L.A. County beaches. SB 836 would reduce some of these butts from reaching the ocean and harming wildlife. Awaiting signature.

Food Packaging

SB 1335 (introduced by Sen. Allen) would require state facilities to use only food-service packaging that is reusable, recyclable, or compostable. Awaiting signature.

The three bills above  are “enrolled,” which means that they have passed both legislative houses and are on Gov. Brown’s desk, who has until the end of the month to sign or veto them. You can help by contacting Brown’s office and letting him know by email or phone that you support these bills.

Illegal Fishing

AB 2369 (Introduced by Assembly Member Gonzalez Fletcher) is another bill important to Heal the Bay, given that it further protects the State’s coastal and marine resources . It would increase fines on people who repeatedly fish illegally in Marine Protected Areas. Gov. Brown signed this bill in August.

 Climate Change

Heal the Bay is also committed to helping identify and implement solutions to climate change and ocean acidification. We are pleased to see Sacramento take the lead in fighting climate change in our state.

Gov. Brown has signed three bills that address climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. SB 100 (introduced by Sen. De León) requires that the state run on 100% renewable energy by 2045. AB 1775 (introduced by Assemblymember Muratsuchi) and SB 834 (introduced by Sen.  Jackson) will prevent future offshore oil and gas drilling in state waters. These bills will decrease our reliance on fossil fuels, and facilitate the transition to renewable sources of energy.

With the 2018 legislative session coming to an end, we see positive progress to reduce harmful environmental impacts in our communities, watersheds, and ocean. Let your elected leaders know that these issues are important to you!



Este 15 de septiembre es el evento de voluntariado más grande del mundo!!! Es el Día de Limpieza Costera 2018. ¡Te invitamos a acompañarnos para que juntos hagamos historia!

Este evento anual ha sido reconocido por el Libro Guinness de los Records como “La mayor recolección de basura” y es coordinado por Heal the Bay y la Comisión Costera de California (California Coastal Commission) en el Condado de Los Ángeles. Una muestra del interés que los residentes y visitantes de LA tienen por el cuidado y protección de sus recursos acuáticos fue la masiva participación en el evento del año pasado. 10,200 voluntarios recogieron 11,5 toneladas de basura en 61 sitios diferentes!!!

Este año, Heal the Bay proyecta tener nuevamente más de 10,000 voluntarios en 70 sitios del Condado de Los Ángeles, incluyendo zonas costeras e internas, el río de Los Angeles y algunos puntos submarinos estratégicos.

¿Cómo participar?

Para ser voluntario en este grandioso evento es necesario registrarse en www.healthebay.org/ccd, reservar la mañana del 15 de septiembre de 9 a 12:00 pm, y si es posible, llevar guantes, balde y bolsas reusables.

No hay límite de edad para participar en el evento y no es necesario ningún tipo de entrenamiento o experiencia previa. ¡Solo el deseo de ayudar a limpiar!!!

¿Dónde?

Los sitios establecidos son los siguientes:

  • Zonas internas: Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, Ballona Creek Bike Path, L.A. River, Lake Balboa, Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve, Madea Creek, Avalon Gardens, Arroyo Seco, Compton Creek, Elysian Valley Gateway Park, Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park, Koreatown, Pacoima y Hyde Park Boulevard.
  • Zonas costeras: Hermosa Beach, Malibu, Manhattan Beach, Marina del Rey, Pacific Palisades, península Palos Verdes, Playa del Rey, Redondo Beach, San Pedro, Santa Mónica, Torrance, Topanga y Venice.
  • Zonas de restauración de hábitat: LAX Dunes y the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, Alta Vicente Reserve; Medea Creek, y  Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve.
  • Puntos submarinos: Malibu Pier, Leo Carrillo State Beach, Redondo County Beach, Dockweiler State Beach, y Santa Mónica Pier.

La población latina en Los Angeles es muy significativa y juega un papel fundamental en la recuperación y conservación del medio ambiente de la región. Consientes de esto, instituciones como Anahuak, Pacoima Beautiful y Bell Gardens High School vienen apoyando activamente las actividades de la organización. Asimismo, se han establecido varios lugares de recolección como en Koreatown y a través de la ciudad en zonas donde la población hispana es numerosa.

¡Esta es una gran oportunidad para hacer algo concreto para nuestra familia, nuestra comunidad, nuestra ciudad y nuestro entorno!!!

Latinos en otros países

Este evento tiene lugar alrededor del mundo y por supuesto los latinos estarán presentes en otros países para trabajar juntos en la reducción de la contaminación de los recursos acuáticos. Países como México, Guatemala, Costa Rica, República Dominicana, Panamá, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Perú y España estarán participando en esta jornada global para remover toneladas de plástico, entre otros.

¡Pequeños cambios pueden hacer una gran diferencia!



Santa Monica often sets the stage for the rest of Southern California when it comes to curbing consumer practices that trash our oceans and neighborhoods.

In 2007, the Santa Monica City Council passed its first ordinance regulating the use of polystyrene, the type of foam typically used in fast-food and drink packaging that has become such an eyesore on our local beaches and neighborhoods.

Today, 110 municipalities in California have passed some type of legislation on the use of polystyrene.  Progressive cities like San Francisco, Malibu and Manhattan Beach have comprehensive bans that include retail sales, coolers and ice chests.

polystyrene ban

Last night, the City Council approved modifications to the City’s earlier ordinance on polystyrene, extending protections that will reduce blight and save marine life.

The new rules extend the existing polystyrene ban to include Food Service Ware (plates, bowls, utensils, cups, straws, and more) and prohibiting bio-plastic #7 and plastics #1-5. They also encourage alternatives such as paper, fiber, bagasse and wood for takeaway packaging.  They also require that takeaway straws and utensils only be made available to customers on a request-only basis, and that they be “marine degradable.”  There are exceptions for people with medical conditions for the use of straws.

These modifications are crucial if we are to systematically reduce plastic pollution in our communities and oceans.  In the last 18 years, Heal the Bay volunteers have removed over 736,000 pieces of plastic foam trash from L.A. beaches.  The harmful flow of single-use plastic foam is a constant threat to marine animals, wildlife and habitats.

And this pollution problem is only growing.  Of the more than 375,000 tons of polystyrene (plastic foam) produced in California each year, not even 1% gets recycled.  The rest ends up in our landfills, waterways and the ocean.

The new rules will help the city achieve its Zero Waste goals by 2030 — through diversion, composting, and recycling.

Nearly 30 people, ranging in age from 3 to 70 years old, spoke in support of the changes. Our policy leaders Katherine Pease and Mary Luna led the Heal the Bay contingent.  Councilmembers seemed enthusiastic during public testimony and wanted to learn more about how the City staff could work with businesses to facilitate transitioning polystyrene out of use.

Beginning January 1, 2019, vendors are not allowed to provide containers made out of polystyrene #6, or from other plastics #1-5; all containers need to be made out of materials like paper, wood, and fiber that meet the definition of marine degradable.

After that date, any business in Santa Monica serving food or drinks in containers labeled #1-6 would not be in compliance with this polystyrene ordinance, and the public may choose to educate them about the ordinance, or to file a report with the City’s Code Enforcement division to ensure compliance.

The definition of marine degradable is included in the ordinance language, specifying that products must degrade completely in marine waters or marine sediments in fewer than 120 days. Products predominantly made with plastics, either petroleum or biologically based, are not considered marine degradable.

Heal the Bay staff and our partners asked the Council to strengthen the ordinance by adding polystyrene items to the prohibited list, such as retail sales (e.g. packing materials, foam coolers) and grocery items (e.g. food trays, egg cartons).  The Council did add beverage lids to the list of items that need to be marine degradable.

The Council expressed interest in including retail sales and grocery items, but ultimately said the new ordinance isn’t the place for action.  Members instead directed staff to look at prohibition of polystyrene retail sales and come back with recommendations.  They also directed staff to look into possible charges for take-away containers (like the 10-cent charge for single-use plastic bags), and incentives for businesses to move more quickly to sustainable packaging.

The Santa Monica City Council showed great leadership last night by adopting the ordinance and continuing the conversation about how to strengthen it further.  We commend the efforts of city staff and councilmembers and look forward to working with the public to implement and build upon this important action.