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Heal the Bay Blog

Category: Polystyrene

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, fundraised, 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:

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!

 



See Shelley Luce, Heal the Bay CEO, do a beach cleanup with her family in between rainstorms on Monday, March 16, 2020.

Are you practicing physical distancing during the COVID-19 response? Yes? Good! If you are looking for something productive to do, to get out of the house while still protecting your wellbeing and the health of others, we recommend doing a cleanup. We believe it is healthy to be outside volunteering, just not together in large groups at this time. So get ready for a dose of fresh air, fill up your reusable water bottle, and follow these instructions on how to do a cleanup.

It’s important to do cleanups, especially now, because the much-needed #LArain we are experiencing has created a surge in runoff and pollution in our neighborhoods, parks and beaches. The majority of waste that ends up in the environment is plastic, which harms wildlife, natural habitats, and public health. The good news: we can all clean up this trash at any time!

Nearly 80 percent of pollution in our marine environment comes from the land. Runoff from more than 200,000 storm drains on L.A. streets flows out to the Pacific Ocean causing the majority of local ocean pollution. By removing tons of pollution from neighborhoods and parks, in addition to beaches and waterways, cleanup participants reduce blight, protect animals, and boost the regional economy.

Here are helpful instructions on how to do a cleanup AND contribute to Heal the Bay’s ever-growing database of over 4,000,000 pieces of trash and debris from the last couple of decades in Los Angeles County, California. We use this trashy data to help inform public policy decision-making and aid businesses and organizations in adopting best practices.

Cleanup Instructions

1. Watch our Cleanup Safety Video or read our Cleanup Safety Talk (we follow this brief outline of safety tips and related topics to give talks before our group cleanups, not all of it will apply to your individual cleanup). This required viewing will help you determine what to do if you find a sharp needle (Don’t pick it up! Report it) and if lightning strikes (head inside immediately!) or how to avoid sneaker waves if you’re doing your cleanup at the beach.

2. Download our Cleanup Data Card (print it and bring the Data Card with you to your cleanup along with a pencil) or track the trash you collect with either the Marine Debris Tracker App.

3. Grab a reusable bucket and a pair of gardening gloves (or at least one glove for the hand you use to pick up trash) and head outside. You can do a cleanup for 15 minutes or an hour – whatever your preference is, please always prioritize safety first!

4. Don’t forget to post your cleanup pics and results on social media using the hashtag #healthebay and tagging us @healthebay. We can’t wait to see your trashy finds and give you well-deserved kudos for volunteering to protect the outdoor places we all cherish.


Learning Resources

Now that you’ve done a cleanup, here are some resources to learn more about the pollution we commonly find at cleanups, and how to prevent it from winding up there.



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.



Since 1985, we’ve partnered with people like you – volunteers, donors and advocates — to make Southern California safer, healthier and cleaner. And 2018 will prove no different.

As another year closes we’ve been reflecting on all our wins in 2017. But now we look ahead to this New Year. We’ll be hosting cleanups, educating kids at our Aquarium and monitoring beaches and watersheds statewide as we do year in and year out. We’ve got bigger plans, too.

Here’s a snapshot look at our Big Three policy goals in 2018, encompassing our three impact pillars – Thriving Oceans, Healthy Watersheds and Smart Water.

1. Parting With Polystyrene

polystyrene ban

Action Item: Enact 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.

We don’t want to live in a nanny state, with a long list of prohibited items and activities. But sometimes enough is enough. Our volunteers have removed more than 500,000 bits of Styrofoam™ from beaches in L.A. County over the past decade1. These discarded fragments of takeout-food packaging and cups are not only unsightly – they’re also downright dangerous to marine life and our health.

Recycling isn’t the answer, as polystyrene food and drink containers suffer from low quality and value. More than 100 California cities have implemented all-out bans. But we need a statewide solution, as with plastic bags. Sacramento legislators likely won’t act until the state’s biggest city acts.


2. Saving Stormwater

Action Item: Get L.A. County voters to approve a funding measure for stormwater capture projects.

When it rains, we create terrible waste in Southern California. First, billions of gallons of polluted runoff are sent uselessly to the sea. Second, we fail to capture and reuse that water to replenish our depleted aquifers.

We import 80% of our water in L.A. – at great risk and cost. It’s simply madness not to reuse the water that nature provides. The County of L.A. already does a fairly good job of capturing stormwater – about 200,000 acre feet each year. But we need to at least double that amount.

Engineers have created detailed plans for multi-benefit, green projects throughout the county – think smart parks, green streets and the like. We can transform the region from a concrete bowl into a giant sponge. But in a time of tight government budgets, finding the funding is tough. In the November election, voters will decide whether to support a tax to reduce pollution and increase water reliability.


3. Revitalizing the River

Action Item: Advocate for strong water-quality and habitat protections in the County’s upcoming L.A. River Master Plan.

Heal the Bay recently released an eye-opening study of water quality that showed that bacterial pollution continues to plague the L.A. River. Our scientific report demonstrated that popular recreation zones suffer from poor water quality. Fecal bacteria pose health risks for the growing number of people fishing, swimming and kayaking its waters.

We’re excited about all the great things happening on the River these days, spurred by a $1 billion revitalization plan. We love that more Angelenos are getting on the water. We just want to make sure people stay safe and are informed about pollution.


Our work isn’t possible without the real passion, action and commitment from people like you. Help us spark more positive change in our region, up and down the coast, and around the world. Help us hit the ground running this year by making a donation today.

Donate

 

1. Source: Heal the Bay’s Marine Debris Database (12/1/2007-12/1/2017). Heal the Bay’s Marine Debris Database is an online record of trash and other debris that has been picked up by schools, companies, and other volunteers as part of Heal the Bay’s various beach cleanup programs.



UPDATE: On May 8, Culver City’s City Council voted unanimously to adopt the single-use polystyrene ban. The ban goes into effect on November 8, 2017.


Earlier this week, the City of Culver City took the first step to join other local municipalities to pass a ban on two types of plastics which wreak havoc on marine life and are often used by food providers: polystyrene foam (commonly known as Stryofoam™) and oriented polystyrene.

Polystyrene foam is frequently used in take-out food packaging like cups and to-go boxes. It’s very lightweight and often flies away from trash bins and landfills. Oriented polystyrene (aka solid polystyrene) is used to make items like utensils, lids and food packaging.

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Polystyrene is seldom recycled due to its low quality and value, even though it’s designated with recycling code 6.

As a result, both types of polystyrene are ubiquitous at beach and watershed cleanups. According to Heal the Bay’s Marine Debris Database, our volunteers have picked up 504,832 Styrofoam™ items from beaches in L.A. County in the last 10 years. Banning these specific plastics is a big win for our coastal environment, especially considering Culver City is situated within the watershed of Ballona Creek and its downstream wetland habitat.

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Santa Monica started banning polystyrene ten years ago, and there continues to be talk of a ban on a state-wide level. But now Culver City has the bragging rights. This local municipality courageously chose to adopt some of the most stringent policies in the area by banning polystyrene coffee lids and straws from businesses as well.

The Culver City ban will begin on November 8, 2017, giving local businesses time to run through their current stock and prepare for the changes. According to the Culver City ordinance, no food provider shall use, distribute, or sell any single-use foam polystyrene or polystyrene service ware, denoted by recycling identification code 6 (PS).

In an additional and welcome caveat to the ordinance, Culver City businesses now must first ask if you want cutlery before simply throwing in plastic utensils with your take-out food. This idea works hand in hand with Heal the Bay’s Rethink the Drink campaign—coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

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Ballona Creek Renaissance lead the charge on this effort, with multiple Surfrider chapters reliably showing up in force over the nearly year-long endeavor. Our own Gnarly Beach Cleaner, Michael Doshi, was consistently there for the countless council and sustainability sub-committee meetings, while recent Heal the Bay Super Healer award winner, environmental science educator, and Team Marine leader at Santa Monica High School Benjamin Kay was present to seal the deal on Tuesday, April 11 right before midnight.

If there was one loser in this endeavor it would have to be impromptu beach parties.  Starting in November, “No [Culver] City business shall sell polystyrene coolers.” So in light of this, Heal the Bay recommends you simply do not procrastinate in the planning of those.

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