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Heal the Bay Blog

Category: Plastic Pollution

Heal the Bay Year In Review 2017

 

It’s been a hot year, but these 7 memories helped us keep our cool.

 

7. Marching for Science, NOT Silence.
Fighting Federal rollbacks with 50,000 Angelenos. Watch Facebook LIVE video >


(Photo Credit: Austin Francalancia)


 

6. Skipping the Straw.
Empowering local business patrons to reduce plastic pollution in our seas. See campaign >

Plastic Free


 

5. Protecting the Pacific Seahorse.
Caring for local animals and willdlife at our S.M. Pier Aquarium. Explore our Aquarium >

Pacific Seahorse


 

4. Changing the Course of the L.A. River.
Expanding the River Report Card to protect public health and habitats. View the River Report Card >


 

3. Championing Community Cleanups.
Leading 37,000+ volunteers to remove 418,000+ trash and debris items. Sign up for a 2018 cleanup >

Los Angeles Beach Cleanup


 

2. Bringing Back Ballona.
Advocating for the robust restoration of L.A.’s last remaining large wetland. Get the latest update >


 

1. YOU!
Your voice. Your time. Your energy. Your contribution. Thank YOU.

We want to make new memories and powerful change next year. But, we can’t do it without the support of ocean lovers like you.

Will you make your tax deductible Year-End Gift today?
(If you’ve already given this season, thank you.)

Make Your Year-End Gift



As Strawless Summer comes to a close, Heal the Bay is committing to a strawless forever. We’d also like to thank all of our partners and pledges for making this campaign possible.

In America, food and drinks are routinely served with a side of plastic. One coffee comes with a cup, sleeve, lid, stirrer, straw, sugar packet and cream. A breakfast burrito includes a wrap, container, salsa, utensils and bag. But just because it’s always on the menu, doesn’t mean we have to order it.

If you’ve been to one of our beach cleanups in greater Los Angeles, you don’t need crazy stats to shock you – like 500 million plastic straws being used in the U.S. every day1. You’ve seen our pollution challenges first-hand. In fact, around 40% of the trash found in the environment is beverage-related2, and single-use plastic straws are one of our most commonly found items at cleanups.

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“No straw, thank you”.

This simple statement, echoed by eco-conscious patrons in restaurants, bars, coffee shops and to-go eateries, is the murmur of a movement aimed at combating the single-use plastic convenience craze.

Earlier this year, Heal the Bay joined the straw-free movement and launched the Strawless Summer campaign to raise awareness and reduce plastic straw distribution in Los Angeles County.

Here are a few highlights:

“Straws Upon Request”

We’ve come to expect plastic straws available at dispensers, tossed on our tables and placed in our drinks without asking for them first. What would happen if we turned the tables? This is what we aimed to address in our “Straws Upon Request” Study.

During Strawless Summer, we partnered with three local Santa Monica establishments (Pono Burger, The Misfit, Ingo’s Tasty Diner) to pilot a 4-week program aimed at reducing plastic straw distribution. Patrons wouldn’t be given straws by waitstaff unless they asked for them, in the same way customers must ask for glasses of water during the drought.

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Did people totally freak out? No. Was it easy to implement? Yes. Did it earn the businesses major goodwill with green locals? Yep, it most certainly did.

If patrons asked for straws (one restaurant said this happened about half the time), the waitstaff explained their absence from the experience was part of a local effort to be more green. Then, the restaurant offered paper or plastic straws.

“We chose to participate in a Strawless Summer because it is great for the environment and the Bay. We are a locals restaurant and have a huge locals following a lot of whom spend a good amount of time in the Bay [and] ocean,” said one restaurant manager who participated in the study.

See more local establishments who pledged to go straws upon request during Strawless Summer.

MonSTRAWsity Hits Home

Here’s a frightening truth: the average American family uses 1,752 straws in a year3. To visualize this fact, we collected plastic straws at our coastline cleanups and pieced together the MonSTRAWsity, whose suit is made out of… 1,752 straws. The MonSTRAWsity spent the summer wreaking havoc on the Santa Monica Pier near the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, in the South Bay and all over Los Angeles. By the end of Summer, the MonSTRAWsity was even surfing the airwaves.

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The Sipping Point

It’s estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the sea than fish by weight. Another study shows microscopic plastic fibers are being detected in 83% of drinking water worldwide and a whopping 94% of U.S. tap water4. Microplastics are even showing up in table salt, according to new research.

Heal the Bay’s Nothin’ But Sand, Adopt-a-Beach and Suits on the Sand cleanup volunteers together have collected close to 13,000 plastic straws and stirrers5 from L.A. County beaches in 2017 alone.

Local inaction is our own worst enemy; however, on the flip side, local action is our best opportunity. Heal the Bay will continue to work with businesses, environmental partners and local municipalities to curb the proliferation of plastic pollution, including advancing alternatives to plastic straws and only providing straws upon request.

L.A. doesn’t have to suck. Let’s rethink the drink and stop the alarming plastic pollution trends from continuing.

Learn more about the benefits of skipping the straw and make the pledge to go straw-fee at LASucks.org

Looking for something fun to share? Download this amazing poster below created by illustrator Daniela Garreton – please make sure to give her credit for this masterpiece. (Download PDF).

Our Strawless Summer 2017 campaign would not be possible without this tribe of water warriors: Thank you to Mick and the team at ZehnerGroup, Susan Lang (creator of the MonSTRAWsity and Heal the Bay volunteer extraordinaire), Andrea Maguire and the STRAWS documentary team, SoHo House Malibu, All At Once, Jack Johnson and the Ohana Foundation, Lonely Whale Foundation, 5 Gyres Institute, Klean Kanteen, Simone Boyce and KTLA 5, and all the awesome local businesses who pledged to go Strawless or “Straws Upon Request”, we salute you!

Special shout outs to these local businesses for their participation in Strawless Summer:

Pono Burger, The Misfit, Ingo’s Tasty Diner, Bareburger Organic, Laurel Tavern, Hermosa Beach Fish Shop, Beckers Bakery & Deli, Brother’s BurritosTallulas and Watermans Safehouse

Sources:
1. “The Be Straw Free Campaign”. National Park Service Commercial Services. (Last update 11/26/2013) https://www.nps.gov/commercialservices/greenline_straw_free.htm
2. Plastics BAN List. Publication. 5 Gyres, Clean Production Action, Surfrider Foundation, USTREAM. 2016. http://d3583ivmhhw2le.cloudfront.net/images/uploads/publications/PlasticsBANList2016.pdf
3. “The Be Straw Free Campaign”. National Park Service Commercial Services. (Last update 11/26/2013) https://www.nps.gov/commercialservices/greenline_straw_free.htm
4. “New Research Shows Plastic Fibers in Drinking Water”. Plastic Pollution Coalition. (published 9/6/2017) http://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/pft/2017/9/6/microfibers-the-plastic-inside-us
5. Heal the Bay’s Marine Debris Database. (data pulled from 1/1/2017-9/21/2017) http://sites.healthebay.org/MarineDebris/MDDB/



Spending time with some exceptional students at the 28th annual Coastal Cleanup Day serves as a real pick-me-up for Communications Director Matthew King.

After 10 years at Heal the Bay, I’ve become a bit jaded about our cleanups. I see the same mounds of trash every time I head to a site – cigarette butts, plastic water bottles, fast-food wrappers, you name it.

In the time I’ve worked here, our cleanup volunteers have removed more than 2.6 million items of man-made debris from L.A. County shorelines. That astounding figure stirs mixed emotions. It’s saddening to realize that we still treat our natural places as trash dumps, but it’s also reassuring to know so many Angelenos still care enough to donate a Saturday morning to protect what they love.

Coastal Cleanup Day 2017 was no different. Under pleasantly overcast skies, volunteers stretching from Compton to Malibu collected roughly 23,000 pounds of trash in just under three hours. To put that in perspective, that’s about the weight of two enormous T. Rex dinosaurs!

Beyond the usual suspects, we found a few oddball items this year – a drone that must have crash landed underneath the Redondo Pier, a whole set of unopened men’s dress shirts resting forlornly on the sand at Will Rogers State Beach, and a jock-strap and cup in Palos Verdes. (Props to whoever had the nerve to pick it up!)

It’s also revealing to see what we didn’t find. A veteran site captain at Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve was astounded how few plastic bags they found at this L.A. River location, which has historically been visibly choked with plastic bags. It’s a good sign that the recently passed state ban is working!

In all, more than 9,600 volunteers joined us at 61 sites across the County today. We always mobilize a cross-section of greater L.A, both the famous and not-so-famous. I’ve met professional surfers, NBA centers, All-Star outfielders and Oscar-winning actors. But it’s usually the everyday folks like you and me who have interesting stories to tell.

Take the inspiring group of six students from Bell Gardens High School who served as site captains for our beach cleanup in Playa del Rey today, under the caring guidance of teacher Patty Jimenez.  The youth brigade — Angel Diaz, Christopher Linares, Heidi Lara, Kimberly Gonzalez, Otzara Villalobos and Vanexi Jaramillo — mobilized 342 volunteers, who collected 235 pounds of ocean-bound debris.

I first met four of these kids last Wednesday morning at a KTLA Channel 5 news shoot to promote today’s cleanup. They had all arisen at 3 a.m., clambered into Patty’s sedan and traveled 23 miles in darkness to do a series of live interviews at the Del Rey Lagoon. With the bright lights of the camera staring them down as dawn broke, they spoke passionately and endearingly on live TV about their desire to curb cigarette-related pollution. Patty beamed at each of her charges, nodding as they offered simple but powerful testimony.

But what really touched me that chilly morning had come a half hour earlier.  I had approached Patty’s car to give the group a heads-up and to share some media tips. A gaggle of kids sat quietly inside, dressed in their teen uniform of denim, hoodies and Vans tennis shoes.

And then I saw something beautiful that made me well up.

In the cramped back seat, two students scanned textbooks, using their mobile phones to illuminate the pages in the dark. They were doing their math homework — in an unfamiliar neighborhood, hours before their school day would start and hours before most of their peers would even be awake.

I told Patty how moving the sight had been and she shared that that these students’ work ethic and optimism keep her motivated when she faces obstacles at school. She shared that this same group of students played a lead role last month in convincing the Bell Gardens City Council to adopt its first ban on smoking in parks and recreation areas.

The simple scene in the car gave me a moment of hope about the public school system, and Patty’s story gave me hope about the next generation of environmental stewards. This is why I work at Heal the Bay, to help my colleagues create leadership opportunities for students like Patty’s, to connect people from all across our region to their watersheds and to each other.

That to me is the real gift of Coastal Cleanup Day.

You can find more images from the day on our Flickr album and at our Facebook Page (check out the new videos, too).

Thank you to all our site captains, volunteers, partners and staff. We couldn’t have done this without you! And a special thank you to this year’s organizers, sponsors and otherwise remarkable organizations: California Coastal Commission, California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways, City of Santa Monica, Golden Road Brewing, Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, Schuchart/Dow, Union Bank, LAcarGUY, KIND Snacks and REI, as well as our photographers Nicola Buck, Cali Gilbert and Alvin Lam.

If you weren’t able to join us today, we have many volunteer opportunities throughout the year – out in the field, in our offices, or at our Santa Monica Pier Aquarium. Explore the various options and time commitments here.



Summer is coming to an end, but our #StrawlessSummer Campaign is a pledge you can keep all year round.

We are thrilled to be joined by local businesses like Pono Burger, The Misfit, Ingo’s Tasty Diner, Bareburger Organic, Laurel Tavern, Hermosa Beach Fish Shop, Beckers Bakery & Deli, Brother’s BurritosTallulas and Watermans Safehouse for our “Straws-Upon-Request” campaign. These businesses are leading the way to change consumer behavior across our region. If a straw is absolutely needed, biodegradable paper straws are available by request.

Americans use roughly 500 million plastic straws daily – that’s enough to fill up 125 school buses and to wrap around the planet 2.5 times. Because they aren’t readily recyclable, most plastic straws end up in landfills, and the rest wind up polluting the environment. Plastic pollution is a major problem, in fact it’s estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the sea by mass than fish. Skipping the straw is an easy way to make a big difference.

L.A. sucks at times, but we don’t have to! We just launched our new campaign microsite (thanks ZEHNERGROUP). You can take the pledge to go strawless, catch up on the latest straw-related news, share with your friends and find out which local restaurants and bars are going straws-upon-request. Learn more at lasucks.org.



The Strawless Summer - Heal the Bay

LA doesn’t have to suck.

The relentless traffic, all the annoying wannabes, and the really, really long lines for literally everything. (Seriously, I just wanted a cold brew & cronut!) Okay, fine. These things do suck! But, they don’t define us.

Diverse communities, vibrant businesses and a beautiful environment – this is what makes greater L.A. so desirable to call home. From the San Gabriel mountains to the Bay, we are a cultural and economic hub built on creativity, innovation and resilience. But escape from the hustle-and-bustle of undercover celebrities, hashtag fads and trendy avocado toast is only a short trip away. Whether it be to hike on nature trails, shred down mountains, swim in the sea or explore the desert, we are blessed with natural and urban settings that are uniquely intertwined.

Yet, our everyday lifestyle choices are having a negative impact that we can no longer ignore.


(Photo by: Henrique Vicente, Flickr. January 2017.)

Plastic pollution is everywhere.

The consequences of low-cost convenience related to food and beverage consumption are surfacing in our ocean, rivers, creeks and streams. It’s now estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean by mass than fish1.

Plastic drink-related litter is one of the top items we find at our volunteer cleanups in beach and watershed areas across greater Los Angeles. Single-use lids, cups, bottles, sleeves, stirrers, six-pack rings, and straws. You name it, we find it. Our region isn’t the only one that needs to consider rethinking the drink. Some 40% of all debris found in the environment is beverage-related2.

Heal the Bay Strawless Summer

And all this trash isn’t just gross. It’s dangerous. Marine mammals, fish and birds often ingest plastic items, mistaking them for food. After accumulating our trash in their gullet, the animals can’t digest food properly and often die.

Just keep sippin’.

Greater L.A. can lead the way and help shift America away from single-use plastic items. We took a giant step when Heal the Bay helped pass the statewide plastic bag ban in 2014 and California voters upheld the policy last year.

But this summer, we’re zeroing in on plastic straws because they totally suck.

Strawless Summer - Heal the Bay

Plastic straws of all shapes, sizes and colors are popping up everywhere from juice boxes to cocktails to unasked-for glasses of water. Collectively, Americans use roughly 500 million plastic straws daily – enough to fill up 125 school buses each day3 and wrap around our entire planet 2.5 times. Most plastic straws end up in landfills. The rest wind up polluting the environment and posing a threat to aquatic life.

So, here’s what we are asking you to do. It’s simple and it works:

The Strawless Summer

It is starting to heat up this summer, so now is the perfect time to cool off and skip the straw. We just launched our new microsite, lasucks.org, where you can take the pledge to go strawless, share with your friends, find out what local restaurants and bars are going straws-upon-request and keep up-to-date on the latest straw-related news and events.


1. The New Plastics Economy Rethinking the future of plastics. January 2016. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_New_Plastics_Economy.pdf
2. Plastics BAN List. Publication. 5 Gyres, Clean Production Action, Surfrider Foundation, USTREAM. 2016. http://d3583ivmhhw2le.cloudfront.net/images/uploads/publications/PlasticsBANList2016.pdf
3. “The Be Straw Free Campaign”. National Park Service Commercial Services. (Last update 11/26/2013) https://www.nps.gov/commercialservices/greenline_straw_free.htm



In honor of Earth Day, we break down the three biggest challenges our seas are facing and outline practical steps you can take to help turn the tide.

Sip smarter

Here’s a troubling thought: It’s estimated that there will be more plastic by mass than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050. In the last 30 years, our volunteers have removed more than 2 million pounds of trash from our shores – that’s the weight of two fully loaded 747 passenger jets! Drink related trash forms the bulk of man-made debris found at Heal the Bay cleanups, accounting for 36% of all items found on L.A. County beaches.

This summer, Heal the Bay is launching its “Rethink the Drink” campaign, but you can get started today by saying “No thanks” to single-use straws, plastic water bottles, coffee lids and beverage cups. And do your part by signing up for one of our monthly beach cleanups.

Change the climate

Here’s another disturbing thought: L.A. County could lose more than half of its beaches by 2100 due to coastal erosion related to warming seas, according to a just-released study from the U.S. Geological Survey. Reducing our carbon footprint is a complicated endeavor involving multi-national agreements, but there are easy steps you can take in your daily life to reduce your impact on the sea. Transportation and food choices are an obvious place to start as a consumer. If you own a car, try taking public transit once a week. If you aren’t a vegetarian, think about skipping meat one day a week.

Heal the Bay also encourages you to speak out against proposed federal budget cuts that would drastically slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate research. Read more about how essential the EPA is to our work and sign our petition.


Exposed bedrock on the beach, below the University of California, Santa Barbara. (Credit: Daniel Hoover, U.S. Geological Survey.)

Fishing for answers

Approximately 90% of fish stocks of large predatory fish like tuna have disappeared globally, and more than half of all fish stocks have been maximized. That means we should all opt for sustainable seafood and eat lower down on the ocean food chain. There is much more to fine sea-dining than tuna, salmon and halibut! Widen your palate and the ocean will thank you. Check out Monterey Bay Aquarium’s seafood guide so you can make ocean-friendly choices when eating from the sea. And visit the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium to learn more about our local marine animals and habitats.

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If you really want to get your activist on this Earth Day, please join staff and supporters Saturday morning in downtown L.A. for the national March for Science.



Reusable bags at Walmart, courtesy of Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune

Dec. 8, 2016 — Way back in the old days (before Nov. 8, that is) your trip to a grocery store in California frequently ended with two options: paper or plastic. Since then, voters across the state passed Proposition 67, and California became the first state in the nation to ban single-use plastic bags. Now you are faced with two new options at the grocery store: paper or reusable.

But wait … why does it look like grocery stores are still offering plastic bags? And why are you getting charged for taking bags? What does this new era of grocery shopping mean?

Have no fear! We’ve compiled a Prop 67 sheet to address all of your questions about the bill and what will happen at the checkout stand going forward.

Plastic bags at checkout, image courtesy of Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago TribuneWhy are some grocery stores still offering plastic bags at the checkout?

While it does look like plastic bags are still an option at some stores (we’ve seen them at Ralphs, Vons, CVS, and Smart & Final), these bags are different than the ones you’re used to seeing. The new law forbids grocery stores from providing single-use plastic bags to customers, even if they sold it for a fee. Instead, stores can sell thicker-skinned bags that can be reused at least 125 times over its lifetime. (And the reusable bag must be able to carry 22 pounds over a distance of 175 feet and must be at least 2.25 mm thick, if you want to be exact.)

These reusable bags can be made of plastic, so yes, they can still pose a threat to ocean animals. While this bill is not perfect (no bill can be passed without some compromise!), getting rid of all those flimsy one-use bags will still have incredible positive impacts on California’s waste stream and environment. We’ve already seen significant reduction in the amount of plastic bags in cities that had their own bag bans in place before Prop 67 passed. In the one year since its bag ban was enacted, the city of San Jose saw a 76% reduction in creek and river litter, a 59% drop in park and roadside plastic bag litter, and a 69% reduction in plastic bag litter in storm drains.

This shows how just a simple change in consumer behavior can have a significant impact on the environment. Millions of Californians in the more than 150 cities and counties that already had their own bag bans have proved that it’s easy and effective.

Paper grocery bagWhat does the law say about paper bags?

The law states that paper grocery bags must contain a minimum of 40% post-consumer recycled materials. Smaller paper bags, like the ones you would typically find in the produce or deli sections, must contain a minimum of 20% post-consumer recycled materials. Many stores are offering paper bags that are made out of 100% post-consumer recycled materials, which is a good thing.

However, there are still environmental consequences from the production and distribution of paper bags. Though Proposition 67 banned single-use plastic bags, the bag ban has also caused a dramatic decrease of paper bags used across the state. Because shoppers are bringing reusable bags with them to the grocery store, the use of paper bags in Los Angeles dropped by about 40% since its bag ban went into effect.

So bring your own durable reusable bag with you. When the checkout clerk asks you if you want paper or reusable plastic, you already have your answer – neither!

coins-can-be-exchanged-for-goods-and-servicesHow much can I be charged for a paper or reusable bag?

According to the law, a grocery store must charge at least 10 cents for a paper or reusable grocery bag. This was put in the bill to ensure that the cost of providing a reusable grocery bag is not subsidized by a customer who does not need that bag. However, stores can charge more than 10 cents for a bag if they want to, just as they can set the price point for any other good sold.

Participants in WIC or CalFresh (SNAP) using a voucher or EBT card are exempt from the bag fee and reusable or paper bags must be offered to these customers free of charge.

I heard people opposing Prop 67 say that the grocery stores are being greedy and are making a profit by charging us for bags. Is that true?

Simply put, this was a lie spread by the plastic bag manufactures to spook people into voting against the proposition. The law clearly states that the money collected from bag sales may be used only for the following purposes:

  • Costs associated with complying with the law.
  • Actual costs of providing recycled paper bags or reusable grocery bags.
  • Costs associated with a store’s educational materials or educational campaign encouraging the use of reusable grocery bags.

Are plastic produce bags still allowed? Are we being charged for them?

Yes – plastic produce bags, meat bags, and bread bags are exempt from this law. While the law does not require that a store charges for the sale of these bags, the store can if it wants to, just as it can set the price for any good it sells. It seems that most stores are continuing with business as usual, which means that the cost of the bags are lumped in with other operational costs that are absorbed in the price of the goods you buy.

What types of stores are included in the ban? What types of stores are exempt?

Plastic bags are banned from the following types of stores:

  • Grocery stores (e.g. Albertson’s, Ralphs, Target, Walmart, Vons, 99 Cent Only, etc.)
  • Drug stores and pharmacies (e.g. Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, etc.)
  • Convenience food stores and food-marts (e.g. 7-Eleven, AM PM Mini Markets, etc.)
  • Liquor stores (e.g. BevMo, local liquor stores, mini-marts, etc.)

The following types of stores are exempt from the plastic bag ban:

  • Restaurants
  • Farmers markets
  • Hardware stores (e.g. Home Depot, Lowes, etc.)
  • Retail stores (e.g. Macy’s, JC Penny, Ross, TJ Maxx, etc.)

Blue recycling binsWhat should I do with all of the plastic bags I’ve saved under my kitchen sink?

With the New Year approaching, now is a great time to set your resolution to free yourself of single-use plastic! The best thing to do is recycle the single-use plastic bags you have. Did you know that in the City of Los Angeles, you can put them straight into your blue curbside recycling bin? We recommend you bundle them all together in one bag to reduce the chances of them flying away in transport and becoming pollution. If you don’t live in L.A., check with your city about what is and is not accepted in your curbside recycling program. You can also check out Earth911 to search for recycling facilities near you. Most grocery stores collect plastic bags for recycling as well.

Want to nerd out and read all of the policy language written into the bill?

We did! You can read the bag ban’s official text on the California Legislature’s website.