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Heal the Bay Blog

Category: Plastic Pollution

Failure is not defeat when we hold ourselves accountable, learn, improve, and move forward together. Our Science and Policy team highlights some environmental policy woes in Part 2 below, and in Part 1 we reflect on wins from the past year. 

In a year like 2020, it is worth the time to celebrate our environmental policy wins. But it may be even more important to recognize our woes, setbacks, and challenges. Failure is a part of life, and it may be painful at times, but it does not mean defeat. It is an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to find ways to improve our work moving forward. Let’s reflect on three of our 2020 environmental policy woes, and set some new goals for 2021. 

California Environmental Legislation

It was a challenging year in the CA legislature. With critical COVID-19 relief bills understandably taking priority, many environmental bills that were expected to pass this year did not make it through. One major loss was Senate Bill 54 and Assembly Bill 1080, twin bills also known as the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, which would have set a goal of reducing single-use plastic waste by 75% by 2030. Following heavy and expensive lobbying campaigns from the plastics industry, these bills narrowly missed passing on the final day of the legislative season in August. 

While this was a devastating blow, there were also wins in plastic pollution reduction policy this year. Governor Newsom signed Assembly Bill 793 into law, making California the first state in the country to set minimum levels for recycled content in beverage containers. California residents also got the Plastics Free California Initiative on the 2022 ballot. If it passes, this initiative would be the most comprehensive plastic pollution reduction policy in the nation. Heal the Bay is not giving up the fight and we are ready to push for strong plastics legislation in the coming year. Sign up to learn more on this from Reusable LA. 

Offshore DDT Dumping

The recent discovery (as reported by the LA Times) of a very large number of dumped barrels of DDT off the coast of Los Angeles was a shock to us and many others who have been working on issues surrounding DDT contamination for over 30 years. We knew about the other large site contaminated by DDT and PCBs on the Palos Verde Shelf, but this new discovery of a potentially similar sized underwater DDT dump was devastating, to say the least. The news left us with many questions. Who is responsible and how can we hold corporate polluters accountable? What is the impact to marine ecosystems and human health? Can this pollution be cleaned up? 

Heal the Bay is currently meeting with elected officials, government agencies, and partners to push for increased scientific understanding of the problem, increased education and outreach particularly to communities at risk from contaminated fish, and increased accountability and transparency. 

Stormwater Regulation with the MS4 Permit

The Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Permit regulates stormwater pollution. The LA County MS4 Permit has been around since 1990, and yet stormwater is still the leading source of water pollution. The lack of accountability in the last MS4 Permit has allowed permittees to fall woefully behind schedule in reducing this pollution. Although renewal of this critical MS4 Permit is already 3 years behind schedule, adoption was again delayed until 2021. Unfortunately, permittees have dominated this process, demanding a weaker permit at the expense of our surface water quality, and so far the Los Angeles Regional Water Board has been receptive to their grumbles.

Heal the Bay’s Take LA by Storm campaign launched this year to provide support for new advocates to engage in this permit process, too. Voices from respected NGOs across LA County attended the Regional Board’s October MS4 Workshop; and in December, 34 NGOs and 19 individual community members weighed in through written comments. We are starting to shift the narrative as the Board hears from communities, but there is still a lot to do before permit adoption in summer 2021.

Heal the Bay will continue to advocate for a strong permit and provide better support to LA communities. Sign up to Take LA by Storm, and together we can hold permittees accountable and reduce stormwater pollution.



A Note from our CEO

As the year comes to a close, we feel energized for what’s ahead. 2021 will not be business as usual. There is too much at stake. Now is our chance to take bold action for present and future generations.

Climate change must be slowed or much will be lost. Heal the Bay pushes government leaders to protect water and biodiversity from the San Gabriel Mountains to the Santa Monica Bay.

Clean water and safe, accessible open space are fundamental for public health. Heal the Bay fights for strong permits that require green solutions to our local pollution problems.

The toxic legacy of plastic production and waste impacts our everyday life. Heal the Bay supports a ban on disposables that harm our neighborhoods and wildlife habitats.

A better world is possible when we empower our youth. Heal the Bay gives students the tools to advocate for their future by testifying at hearings and writing letters to elected officials.

We must recover environmental policy rollbacks. Heal the Bay has the expertise to regain ocean, river, and wetland protections, and solve today’s problems by upholding the Clean Water Act.

We are living in a critical decade for our planet. The hard work in front of us won’t happen by itself. Your donation to Heal the Bay supports our mission of making the coastal waters and watersheds in Southern California safe, healthy, and clean through science, education, community action, and advocacy.

Amidst all the challenges, you can trust that Heal the Bay is here for good. We will not stop until we succeed.

Donate

Thank you for doing your part.

Dr. Shelley Luce, Heal the Bay President and CEO

Interested in learning more about Heal the Bay’s impact in 2020? View Shelley’s reflection on the year behind us.

 




Ready to take the next step? Complete the virtual training to be added to Heal the Bay’s 2020 Storm Response Team.

Watch the Training Video


It is fall in Los Angeles, which means earlier evenings, vibrant sunsets, thicker wetsuits for surfers, autumn colors taking over the San Gabriel Mountains, and the first rainfall of the season is inevitably approaching. We welcome the much-needed showers to quench our environment and combat wildfires. However, the first rainfall (aka the first flush) also impacts the health of our local watersheds and beaches.

The Risk

Stormwater is a major source of pollution for the rivers, lakes, and ocean in Los Angeles County. The first flush brings a flood of water, toxins, and trash from our streets straight onto our beaches through the storm drain system. The runoff eventually dumps a mountain of trash onto shorelines, from Malibu to Redondo Beach, without any treatment or screening. This poses a significant risk, not only for wildlife and marine life who can ingest trash or get entangled, but also to the health of our communities. This is why we have suggested safety precautions after a rainstorm, like waiting 72 hours to go swimming and staying at least 100 yards away from any flowing outfall that looks like a stream meeting the ocean. 

The Data

During Coastal Cleanup Month in September 2020, Heal the Bay volunteers removed more than 40,000 pieces of trash, including food wrappers, straws, takeout containers, and plastic grocery bags from our neighborhoods, parks, trails, and beaches. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) even made the list of top items found for the first year ever. The 4,320 pounds of trash would have been swept through the storm drain system and out on the beach after the first flush if our amazing volunteers didn’t take action.

Coastal Cleanup Month ended weeks ago, but the trash in our environment continues to pile up. The first flush will happen soon, and it will take all of the accumulated pollution in our communities and storm drains and dump it straight onto our beaches. We have a finite amount of time to remove this trash before it reaches the ocean and becomes marine debris.   

How Can You Help?

For several years now, Heal the Bay deploys a team of first responders known as the Storm Response Team in an effort to remove trash and debris around low tide before it heads out to sea. This dedicated team braves the elements and heads to designated areas immediately following a rain event.

We need more volunteers to join our Storm Response Team for the 2020 season to help remove trash, track data, and/or document photos. If you’re interested in being the ocean’s first responder after a storm and protecting our environment and community, sign up to receive alerts about volunteer opportunities! 

Heal the Bay will host a virtual training for our 2020 Storm Response Team to brief volunteers on what to expect and ensure the team is prepared to conduct individual cleanups after the first rainfall. When a storm hits, volunteers will receive an email a day (or sometimes just hours) in advance of low tide with relevant details and location recommendations. At that point, our Storm Response Team can spring into action, spreading out along the coast and collecting as much trash as possible before it is swept out to sea. 

Join the Storm Response Team



What’s spookier than Halloween? Plastic pollution!

Trash in the ocean and in our neighborhoods, especially single-use plastic waste, negatively impacts public health, water quality, our food supply, marine ecosystem health, and our carbon footprint.  Plastic is made from fossil fuels, and toxic pollution from its extraction, development and manufacturing disproportionately impact People of Color and low-income communities. ⁣

Around the globe, we produce 300 million tons of plastic annually, 50% of which is used for disposable items. That number is only expected to jump, as Big Plastic pushes their agenda and pumps up plastic production to make up for fuel price losses during COVID-19. ⁣

While we’ll keep doing cleanups to pick up the plastic pieces that have already made their way into our environment, a better solution is to shift away from single-use and move toward a thriving culture of reuse.

Help protect our planet! Reduce plastic pollution this Halloween by taking part in our at-home virtual Halloween Challenges below. Tag #healthebayhalloween on social media, so we can “sea” your creepy creations! We’ll feature a few on our feeds, too.

And, tune in to Heal the Bay Aquarium’s Facebook channel on October 31 at 1:00pm for a virtual Spooktacular Saturday Storytime with a family-friendly reading of “The Garbage Monster” by Joni Sensel.

Sustainable Costume Challenge

Calling all frightfully fintastic Halloween a-fish-ianados! Instead of buying a new costume that will come wrapped in plastic packaging – opt for a DIY look. Make a costume with reused, repurposed or upcycled materials from home, local thrift stores, or any items you can find.

Come on, unleash your kraken of creativity. Create a light saber using the force (of a flashlight and rolled up paper) or swim around your living room with a shark fin made of cardboard, cloth, and safety pins.

Plastic-Free Trick or Treat Challenge

We’re seriously scared by how much single-use food and candy wrappers are in our environment. In the last 5 years, 48,015 food and candy wrappers were picked up by cleanup volunteers in Los Angeles County.

⁣Don’t let the ghost of plastic’s past come back to haunt you. In-person trick-or-treating may be cancelled this year, but we can still enjoy some Halloween favorites at home. Whip up some delicious homemade Halloween candy, purchase candy in recyclable or reusable paper boxes, or opt to give some fun goodies like an ocean animal plush keychain that supports your favorite local nonprofit.

Trash Art Challenge

Conduct your own neighborhood or community cleanup, and turn that gross plastic pollution into trash art. Reuse the materials you find to create a garbage monster, sculpture, mosaic, homage to your favorite artwork, or anything you choose—there’s an ocean of creativity that awaits. Remember to wash your hands, avoid using any hazardous materials, and clean the trash before you get to work.

Get Inspired with our Gallery of Ideas

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Photo Credit: Washed Ashore, Smithsonian's National Zoo

More Family-Friendly Ways to Get Involved:



As the sun sets on Coastal Cleanup Month, we are looking back with gratitude and appreciation for everyone who participated in a cleanup, helped us spread the word, raised funds, and joined a virtual event over the course of the month. At a time when it’s easy to feel isolated from one another, it is inspiring to see how we came together across the County, from summit to sea, to protect what we love.

A New Take on 2020

Heal the Bay has been the LA County coordinator for Coastal Cleanup Day for more than 30 years, and 2020 proved to be a completely different cleanup effort than years past. In an effort to prioritize the health and safety of the community, the re-imagined concept was expanded to become an entire month of individualized cleanups close to home and virtual programming to educate about the impacts of trash and pollution and how we can work together towards solutions. Our Heal the Bay Aquarium education team engaged 437 LAUSD students with virtual programming about protecting our watersheds. This was also the first year that we asked for volunteer fundraisers to support our clean water mission. Fundraising teams and individuals raised close to $2,000, and we are grateful for their support.

Each week of Coastal Cleanup Month focused on a different region, starting at the top of our mountains, working through our neighborhoods & waterways, and culminating at our wetlands & beaches. The weekly programming featured a series of panels, webinars, and Instagram Lives with partner organizations that explored the various community and environmental issues facing Los Angeles County. 

None of this would have been possible without our Coastal Cleanup Month sponsors, and we would like to thank Water for LA, Blue Shield, K-Swiss, Ford, and West Basin Municipal Water District for their support.

2020 Impact

This year, we set a goal of collecting 31,000 pieces of trash throughout the month of September. Thanks to our dedicated Regional Ambassadors and 2,334 registered cleanup volunteers, we surpassed this goal with a total of 40,101 pieces of trash collected!

The top 10 items found across Los Angeles County in the month of September were:

Download our full Coastal Cleanup Month Wrap-Up Book for 2020

The Effects of PPE and the Pandemic on Our Environment

Coastal Cleanup Month was the first initiative of this scale to track the impact of the improper disposal of single-use personal protective equipment (PPE) in LA County. In the first year of tracking this item, PPE was one of the top 10 items found by our volunteers, surpassing common items like glass bottles. 

Through our data, we can clearly see the effects of the pandemic on our waste stream. Another observation is that people are relying more than ever on takeout, delivery, and outdoor dining at beaches, parks, and other public spaces. Disposable foodware accessories like utensils, straws, and takeout containers were some of the most common items found during cleanups.

The Plastic Problem

Looking at the data collected throughout Coastal Cleanup Month, it’s obvious that single-use plastic is the top offender. From utensils and straws to takeout containers and grocery bags, our lives are filled with plastic – and so is our environment. Unfortunately, the effects of COVID-19 have worsened these single-use habits and curbed a lot of progress that we’ve seen in Los Angeles over the last several years. 

Plastic grocery bags were a common item found during cleanups until California became the first state in the nation to impose a statewide bag ban in 2014. Before the pandemic hit, we were making great strides in reducing our single-use plastic waste. We could bring our reusable bags to the grocery store and refill our reusable coffee cups at Starbucks, and our environment and community were all the better for it. Now, plastic producers are using the pandemic to push disposable plastics as a safer option, a position that has no scientific merit. They were able to undo the work of the state bag ban, and grocery stores statewide have not only reintroduced single-use plastic bags, but many have banned reusable bags from entering stores. This year, we saw plastic grocery bags, cups, and lids in the top 10 items found by our volunteers during Coastal Cleanup Month.  

We also found that other than cigarette butts and PPE, the top 10 items are all food and drink-related. With the increasing reliance on takeout and delivery, plastic cutlery and other accessories are becoming a bigger and bigger issue. Restaurants often throw these items in takeout bags regardless of whether the customer needs them or not. To put this in perspective, 40 billion plastic utensils are thrown away each year in the United States. Plastic foodware items, like straws, utensils, and condiment packets cannot be recycled, so they are destined to end up in a landfill, incinerator, or polluting our oceans and communities.

How Can You Help?

Plastic pollution may seem like something that is out of your control. However, there are easy ways you can help make waves of change, from using reusable products when you can to supporting environmental legislation. Here are 3 easy ways to make a change:

  • Go reusable!

From grocery bags and utensils to water bottles and coffee cups, there are reusable replacements for almost all single-use plastics. Check out our Heal the Bay Shop for some ideas! If you’re ordering takeout or delivery, make sure to tell the restaurant “no plastic, please!” and use your own utensils instead. Check out Reusable LA and Habits of Waste for easy ways to help combat this issue, like sending an email to third party delivery companies asking them to make plastic cutlery and accessories optional rather than the default. If you’re unsure where to start, conduct a home waste audit to evaluate your daily habits and see where you can replace single-use items with reusables.

  • Pack it out. 

As a result of limited staff and the increased need to sanitize the bathrooms as a result of COVID-19, Los Angeles County Beaches & Harbors only has the capacity to empty the public trash cans once a day. Combined with the surge of beachgoers picnicking on the sand, this has led to an overwhelming problem of overflowing trash cans and increased beach litter. Similar issues have been observed throughout the County, so if you are enjoying our public spaces, make sure that all trash gets disposed of properly, and pack it out if trash cans are full.

  • Use your voice. 

Every single person has power! You influence the people close to you by voicing your opinion, you influence companies with the purchases you choose to make, and you can influence policy and legislation with your vote. The California bag ban is a good example of local change leading the charge and turning into statewide change, so don’t underestimate the power of advocating at your local City Council or with the County Board of Supervisors. At its core, plastic pollution is not a consumer problem; it’s a producer problem, and you can use your voice to support plastic policies that make plastic producers responsible for the waste they create.

Get Involved with Heal the Bay

We are excited with the results of Coastal Cleanup Month, but protecting our watersheds and coastline is an everyday effort. There are ways you can continue to stay involved and support our clean water mission year-round with different programs like Adopt-a-Beach, Club Heal the Bay, and MPA Watch. If you’re ready for more action to protect our oceans, join our virtual Volunteer Orientation on October 12. And don’t forget to save the date in September 2021 for next year’s Coastal Cleanup efforts!

 



The consumption of single-use plastic has surged exponentially during the pandemic. Safety concerns make it more challenging to use a reusable cup at our local coffee shop and many stores have policies that complicate bringing your own bag. With everything else in the world feeling a bit defeating, this is the perfect time to double down on what we can control.

One easy and simple way to make your lifestyle more sustainable is by conducting a quick waste audit. Waste audits are the perfect way to evaluate what we use in our day-to-day lives, see where we can replace single-use items with reusables, and get into the habit of buying fewer things made from non-degradable or non-recyclable materials.

So what exactly is a waste audit, and how do we get started? 

A waste audit is an analysis of the trash we produce in our own homes to take note of what is actually being disposed of. This gives us a better understanding of what we’re adding to the waste stream and allows us to get a snapshot of what we use, throw away, and recycle. Waste audits can also help us identify areas we want to improve in terms of consumption and use, and possibly inspire cost saving or upcycling ideas. 

Home waste adults are helpful tools that can bring more environmental awareness and change into our lives. 

Here’s our 5 step guide to a DIY waste audit: 

Audit Prep 

  1. Set a time:  Ask yourself, “how long do I want to do a trash audit?” Remember you can do a trash audit in one day or over the course of a few days. We recommend a 4-5 day window and choosing a date(s) you won’t have any special events to avoid skewing your audit data. Once you pick your start and end dates, set a reminder on your phone or mark your calendar to start your audit. 
  2. Grab a bin: Designate one trash bin in your home to collect waste items you use for your analysis. Make sure to separate out and rinse any containers that have any organic waste materials. Organic waste, like food scraps, won’t be counted in your audit.
  3. Collect trash: let your trash pile up until your designated time to evaluate. 

Evaluation 

  1. Grab supplies: You’ll need your now very full trash bin, something to take notes with, a tarp, and 15-30 mins of time. 
  2. Sort your trash: lay out your tarp and place all your trash on the tarp into categories. Examples include: “paper products,”  “recyclables,” “wrappers,” “miscellaneous,” etc. Tally your waste to document your results. If you want to take your waste analysis a step further use this form to help you categorize your home waste and use this guide or video to help you categorize products and attribute it to the brands that produced it.

When looking through your trash, try to answer these questions to understand the type of waste you’re producing:

  • Can you note how many of the items you’ve thrown away that can be recycled? Not all plastics are recyclable, even if it has a chasing arrows icon. Less than 10% of plastics are actually recyclable, and most will never be recycled. Watch this video to learn what each of the numbers between the chasing arrows icon on plastic containers actually mean.
  • What is your most commonly thrown out item? Is there anything that surprises you about what you collected? (Maybe you have an excess of packaging material, or a certain type of product. Perhaps a particular brand seems to use excessive packaging.) 
  • What items are necessary and what could be replaced with a reusable or more environmentally-friendly product? 
  • Besides recycling, what options do you have for disposal? (Can anything in your bin be composted, like cardboard?)  
  • How did you do? What did you discover? Are there any areas of improvements? What are some other alternatives?

Awareness is the first step. Action is power. Once we know more about our own personal consumption habits, we can make the change that best suits our needs and the environment.

If you want to take it a step further after your audit and challenge yourself, try refusing the top five sources of single-use plastic that we find most commonly on our beaches, parks, and streets.

 




Bills Fail to Pass the California Legislature in 2020

It is with a heavy heart that we share that SB 54 and AB 1080, two plastic pollution reduction bills known as The California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, did not pass. These bills would have taken on Big Plastic by reducing single-use plastics across California by 75% by 2032. And because of their transformative potential, the plastic industry pushed back with a $3.4 million lobbying campaign, spending not only money, but an enormous amount of time lobbying representatives.

The public is demanding a coordinated solution to reduce plastic pollution. People are recognizing the harm plastic has on public health, local economies, and the environment. Labor groups, small businesses, and communities are in support, as evidenced by the bill’s formal support list of 325 organizations, companies, and municipalities, as well as Heal the Bay’s support petition, which garnered more than 433,000 individual signatures. 

Despite this overwhelming support, the bills died in the California State Assembly on the last day of the 2020 legislative season. AB 1080 had narrowly passed the Senate, but when it was time for the Assembly to decide, the bills were just 4 votes shy of the necessary 41 needed to pass. We were up against a massive opposition campaign with Big Plastic spending millions to defeat this, and in the end, the bills fell short only by 4 votes. We are thankful to all 23 Senators and 37 Assemblymembers who voted AYE in support of these bills.

A tremendous amount of work went into these bills to strengthen them, rally the support we needed, and get them to the finish line. Never before has the California legislature been so close to passing such a landmark plastic pollution reduction bill. While this is disappointing, it is not a defeat. We know that the fight is not over. We still had major wins this year as we continued to elevate the critical conversation around the full lifecycle impacts of plastic pollution, and gained a bigger and broader coalition of support and more committed legislators working to reduce waste and plastic pollution in California than ever before. 

In her riveting closing argument Monday night, Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez reminded us that the issue of plastic pollution is no longer one we can ignore, saying “It’s not a white, coastal problem…I have a Brown community that is dirty […] with your plastics. It’s dirty because there’s nowhere to put them.”  It is thanks to authors Assemblymember Gonzalez and Senator Allen, other co-authors, legislative supporters, and support from the community that these bills got as far as they did.

Looking forward, we will be bringing the plastic pollution fight to the people. Earlier this year, Heal the Bay and other organizations gathered 870,000 signatures, enough to qualify a plastic pollution reduction measure for the 2022 ballot. In 2022, California voters will vote on the California Recycling and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act.  This measure would reduce plastic pollution through source reduction, funding mechanisms, a polystyrene ban, and other tools. This initiative gives California voters the unique opportunity to finally hold the plastic industry accountable for the waste they produce.

In the meantime, Heal the Bay will be refocusing here in Los Angeles County and Los Angeles City, and continue working to push local plastic pollution reduction policy forward. Stay tuned for ways to get involved, and check out Reusable LA for more information.

Thank you to all who called, emailed, posted, and supported over the past year and a half. We could not have pushed SB 54 and AB 1080 this far without all of you, and we are ready to keep fighting. Are you?

#CAMustLead #breakfreefromplastic 


Top photo by @_adventureiscallingme



California is on the cusp of passing a transformative bill to reduce plastic pollution, and we need your help to get there.

Last year, California State Senators and Assemblymembers came together and introduced a pair of identical bills to address plastic pollution. Known as the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, Senate Bill 54 (SB 54) and Assembly Bill 1080 (AB 1080) are now again poised to become transformative legislation in the global fight against plastic pollution.

California is in the midst of a waste crisis. With waste haulers no longer able to export recyclables to countries like China and India for disposal, our plastic trash is piling up, yet our throw-away lifestyle continues to grow. If we continue on with business as usual, we can expect to see a 40% increase in plastic production over the next decade, and more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050.

Plastic pollution isn’t contained to the coastline. Plastic products are made from fossil fuels, and they contribute to air pollution throughout their entire lifecycle, from extraction to refining, manufacturing to disposal. This pollution disproportionately impacts low-income communities and communities of color. This pollution can lead to health impacts such as asthma, respiratory illness, headaches, fatigue, nosebleeds, and even cancer and makes members of these communities more susceptible to COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic has also caused an increase in the use of disposable plastics, as industries revert back to harmful disposable products over reusables.

The time for drastic action is now, and SB 54 and AB 1080 can get us there.

Heal the Bay has been closely tracking and supporting this legislation since it was introduced more than a year and a half ago. At its core, the bills function similarly to the greenhouse gas emissions limit bill of 2006 (SB 32) by setting a reduction target for single-use plastic packaging and products of 75% by 2032. Check out our FAQ for the full break down of the legislative language.

If SB 54 and AB 1080 pass, California will be at the forefront of the global fight against plastic pollution and Heal the Bay has been working tirelessly alongside our partners to make that happen. But, now we need your help. The bills will be voted on by September 13 (we don’t know the exact date) and if they pass, they go on to the Governor and need to be signed by him before October 13.

Make Your Voice Heard

Our Senators and Assemblymembers need to hear from YOU now.

Please call your representative and tell them you support SB 54 and AB 1080. A call takes two minutes or less, and it makes a world of difference for our representatives to hear from their constituents.

This phone-to-action page makes it easy: Just type in your information, and you will receive a call from a service that can easily connect you to your representative. Make the call today:

Call Your Representative Today!

Sample Call Script:

Hello, my name is ____________________and I live in _____________________. As your constituent, I’m calling to urge you to support Assembly Bill 1080 and Senate Bill 54, which would reduce plastic pollution in California by 75% by 2030 and reduce the increasing costs of cleanups that are falling on taxpayers.

Plastic pollution is no longer just an environmental problem, it is a financial issue and a public health concern. Right now we are in the midst of a recycling crisis, and California is unable to deal with mounting plastic waste.

Our communities and our environment need to be protected now. That’s why I’m urging you to support AB 1080 and SB 54 in addressing plastic pollution before it’s too late. Thank you.



Photo by Mayra Vasquez. Courtesy of Los Angeles County.

Beach Programs Manager Emely Garcia shares where marine debris and ocean pollution start, and how Heal the Bay uses community science, data collection, and science-based advocacy to develop solutions.

Ocean pollution begins at our front doors.  Each year thousands of pounds of trash and plastic waste are discharged through the storm drain system, ending up on our LA County beaches. Before trash makes its way into the storm drain system and on to the beaches, it litters our local streets, waterways, and parks, harming wildlife and impacting their habitats. Scientists estimate that about 80% of marine debris comes from our neighborhoods and communities.

To understand the problem of marine debris more completely, we need to collect local litter and pollution data in order to develop data-driven solutions. Now more than ever, we need remote support with data collection. We encourage curious, passionate Heal the Bay volunteers to take part in a DIY cleanup and data collection. Gathering valuable litter data around your neighborhood helps us continue to battle ocean-bound litter.

Photo by Venice Paparazzi. Courtesy of Dockweiler Youth Center and LA County Dept of Beaches & Harbors.

Heal the Bay uses our beach cleanup data to inform critical environmental and public policy. For example, in 2014, the City of Los Angeles’ plastic bag ban went into effect, following years of advocacy by our Science and Policy team. Thanks in part to that effort, we were able to implement a state-wide California bag ban in 2016, and eight more states have implemented bag bans since then. Since these bag bans went into effect, our data shows that the number of plastic bags picked up at cleanups has decreased drastically. This data makes a difference. With marine debris data and your help, we can continue to tackle clean water issues and toxic plastic pollution with science-based advocacy.

Turn the Tide: Tracking Data

If we want to see change, we need to combine personal action with collective action. Volunteers can participate in scientific research to fight ocean pollution by joining the community science marine debris data movement. Follow these steps to participate in community science on your next neighborhood walk.

 

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Get Involved

Heal the Bay has partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to offer our official cleanup data cards digitally. With the Marine Debris Tracker app, you can capture location through GPS, record debris items, attach photos, and track statistics in real time. Join the thousands of community scientists from all over the world who have logged more than 2 million pieces of litter on the app.

To begin collecting valuable debris data in your community, download the mobile Marine Debris Tracker app on a smart phone or tablet through your app store or Google Play. Here are some helpful cleanup tips and step-by-step data tracking instructions to get you started:


Download

How to Track Data

Step 1. Decide where you will collect your data. Find a location that is accessible to you and walking distance from where you live. Open the Marine Debris Tracker app and select “Start Tracking”.

Step 2. Next, select the Heal the Bay icon from the list of partner organizations. Selecting Heal the Bay allows you to participate in local LA County marine debris tracking efforts. 

Cleanup Pro Tip –Gather your materials and stay safe

    • Cleanup supplies: A mask, work gloves, and an old bucket or bag to collect trash in.
    • Pack essentials: Pack items like a first aid kit, a filled reusable water bottle, and some of your favorite snacks to stay fueled and hydrated.
    • Watch our Cleanup Safety Video or read our Cleanup Safety Talk, and remember to NOT pick up anything you are not comfortable picking up.

Step 3. Once the Heal the Bay page is selected you will see a list of top community trackers. Log plenty of debris items and get your name to the top of the ranking list. You can also encourage family and friends to participate for some friendly competition. 

Cleanup Pro Tip-

    • Adhere to county guidelines and respect any recreational space closures.
    • Limit your cleanup group participants to only the people in your household to accommodate physical distancing and help reduce the spread of COVID-19. If you see other people while you are outside, make sure to stay at least 6 feet away.

Step 4. Track litter!  The icons in orange are debris categories you can hit the each category to bring up the list or scroll down to see all items listed on our digital data card. Be sure to hit the add button to track your find. 

Cleanup Pro Tip-

  • You can collect data for as long as you’d like. We recommend two hour cleanups. One hour going out, and one hour coming back to your start location. 
  • Be aware of the elements. Wear closed-toed shoes and protective sun gear, like sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen. And stay hydrated with you reusable water bottle.

Step 5. Before submitting your data, enter in any details that might apply by filling out the Heal the Bay Volunteer survey. Here you can include details that apply to your group by checking the boxes or typing any information that may apply.  

Cleanup Pro Tip

    • After filling out the survey, submit your data by hitting save and toss your collected trash in the nearest waste receptacle. 

Remember, your observations could lead to the next breakthrough. Finding ways to take individual and community action makes the fight against pollution more effective. Thanks for tracking valuable debris data, and being a part of this amazing cleanup effort.

Learn more about our newly adapted Adopt-A-Beach cleanup program and challenge.

 



La primera vez que me dijeron que la piel de ciertos peces capturados cerca de Los Ángeles era tóxica para comer, me intrigó. Nunca había escuchado que la piel humana desempeñara un papel de “depósito de toxinas”, y me preguntaba qué propiedades especiales tenía la piel del pescado que le permitían albergar estas toxinas. Mi primer pensamiento fue que quizás las toxinas en el agua absorbidas a traves de la piel se acumulan allí. Al investigar más sobre el tema, esa no fue la respuesta que encontré.

Las toxinas en cuestión aquí son varias moléculas conocidas como contaminantes orgánicos persistentes (COP), que incluyen los químicos (DDT) y (PCB). Los COP son conocidos por su resistencia a la descomposición a largo plazo, también conocida como persistencia, así como por su naturaleza orgánica que les permite acumularse en los cuerpos de plantas y animales.

Hay muchos beneficios culturales y de salud bien documentados para comer pescado y los COP no impiden que los peces capturados localmente sean beneficiosos, pero su presencia significa que los pescadores deben tener en cuenta los tipos de pescado que comen y los métodos de preparación.

Los Ángeles es el hogar de muchos pescadores de subsistencia que dependen de la pesca como fuente principal de proteínas, y estas poblaciones son las más vulnerables a los COP. Estas preocupaciones con las fuentes locales de alimentos capturados en el medio silvestre provienen de la contaminación local de los sedimentos, suelos y aguas subterráneas de Los Ángeles.

El mayor ejemplo de contaminación por COP en el condado de Los Ángeles fue causado por la compañía Montrose Chemical cerca de Torrance. Esta fábrica elaboró DDT y eliminó sus desechos, incluidos DDT y PCB, en el sistema de alcantarillado durante 28 años, que en ese momento se liberaron directamente al océano sin tratamiento. Más de cien toneladas de DDT y once toneladas de PCB fueron liberadas en el océano frente a la península de Palos Verdes. La fabricación y  uso doméstico del DDT se prohibieron en los Estados Unidos en 1972, sin embargo, la molécula misma persiste en nuestra area y en los mariscos hasta el día de hoy.

El Programa Educacional Pesquero (AOP, por sus siglas en inglés) de Heal the Bay educa a los pescadores de muelles y costa en el Condado de Los Ángeles y Condado de Orange, sobre los riesgos de consumir pescados contaminados con DDT y PCB. Creado en el 2003, AOP es un componente del Programa Educacional sobre la Contaminación de Peces (FCEC, por sus siglas en inés) y administrado por la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de los Estados Unidos (EPA, por sus siglas en inglés) como parte de un programa de educación pública y divulgación.

Realmente no es justo pedirles a los pescadores o cualquier persona que cambien su comportamiento de esta manera, pero muy pocos aspectos de la contaminación son justas. Si bien los COP son una preocupación mundial, está claro que la mayoría de los impactos de esta contaminación en la salud pública, incluidos el cáncer y los trastornos reproductivos, son desproporcionadamente experimentados por las comunidades de primera línea, que son comunidades compuestas principalmente por personas de color y/o de estatus socioeconómico más bajo.

Ahora, volviendo a la pregunta sobre la piel de pescado. Los COP son una amenaza particular en los peces porque los ecosistemas marinos y los de agua dulce son reservorios importantes de contaminantes persistentes. Los COP son arrastrados a cuerpos acuáticos por escorrentía, viento u otros medios y permanecen en esos ecosistemas secuestrados en los sedimentos orgánicos. Estos sedimentos a veces se conocen como “sumideros” porque pueden albergar COP durante cientos de años, excepto cuando son introducidos en la cadena alimenticia por los peces que se alimentan de los fondos.

Al subir por la cadena alimenticia, estos productos químicos orgánicos se concentran a niveles que pueden ser mucho más altos que el que se encuentra en el agua (también conocida como bioacumulación). Si hay contaminación microplástica en el agua, los COP se adherirán al plástico, se concentrarán más allá y generarán riesgos de concentraciones mayores de COP que ingresen a la cadena alimenticia.

Los peces absorben principalmente los COP de los sedimentos a través de sus vías digestivas y branquias, y solo en pequeña medida a través de su piel. Una vez dentro del cuerpo, los COP son rápidamente “atrapados” por las grasas, donde se disuelven fácilmente para su almacenamiento a largo plazo. Las reservas normales de grasa en los peces (y en los humanos) se encuentran en el hígado y la grasa subcutánea, que es la capa de grasa directamente debajo de la piel y que desempeña un papel en la regulación de la temperatura. Cuando la grasa se descompone debido al hambre u otros factores, los COP se liberan en el torrente sanguíneo y causan daño.

Dicho esto, no es técnicamente la piel del pez lo que almacena los contaminantes, sino la capa subcutánea de grasa justo debajo de la piel. Al quitar la piel del pescado, se elimina esta capa de grasa donde se almacenan los COP. Curiosamente, estas moléculas se comportan y se almacenan de manera similar una vez que ingresan al cuerpo humano a través de su tracto digestivo.

En caso de que esta información te haga sentir mal, Los Ángeles está tomando medidas para reducir la contaminación. Es casi imposible eliminar los COP de nuestro medio ambiente y vida silvestre, por lo que el objetivo es evitar que ingresen más. Existe la esperanza de que el próximo permiso de drenaje pluvial, también conocido como el permiso municipal de alcantarillado pluvial (MS4, por sus siglas en inglés), sea lo suficientemente fuerte y ejecutable como para reducir la contaminación local mediante la regulación de la descarga industrial de aguas residuales en los desagües pluviales. Afortunadamente, una reciente decisión de la Corte Suprema tomada en abril de 2020 (19) reforzó los estándares regulatorios de los permisos MS4 al decir que aplican a las aguas residuales vertidas en las aguas subterráneas, así como a los desagües pluviales.

¿Como puedes ayudar? Lo mejor que puedes hacer es educarte sobre qué peces son seguros para la pesca,  cuales se pueden comer en Los Ángeles y cómo prepararlos de manera segura. Posiblemente, lo mejor que puedes hacer, es comunicarte con la Junta de Agua local y expresar tu apoyo a un simple, transparente, medible y exigible permiso MS4, para reducir la cantidad de nuevos contaminantes que ingresan a nuestro medio ambiente. Lee nuestro blog reciente sobre el permiso MS4 para aprender más información y regístrate para mantenerte actualizado sobre los llamados de acción del MS4 (22).


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