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:
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.
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.
Collect trash: let your trash pile up until your designated time to evaluate.
Grab supplies: You’ll need your now very full trash bin, something to take notes with, a tarp, and 15-30 mins of time.
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:
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?
For the first time ever, Coastal Cleanup Day has transformed into Coastal Cleanup Month, a month-long event to celebrate our watersheds and coastline with decentralized cleanups, educational programming, and virtual events.
Every single one of us makes an impact no matter where we are in Los Angeles County. The mission of Coastal Cleanup Month, beyond cleaning up our streets, creeks, trails, and coast, is to show how closely we are all connected by our watershed. What happens in the mountains makes its way through our creeks and rivers, and the litter we see on our streets eventually ends up on our beaches via the storm drain system.
Heal the Bay has coordinated the Coastal Cleanup effort in Los Angeles for more than 30 years, and we are so thankful to our Site Captains for making the program as successful and impactful as it is. This year, our Captains were tasked with a new challenge: to help us encourage countywide cleanups while also making sure our community stays safe and healthy during these turbulent times. With their support, the role of Site Captains transformed into Regional Ambassadors.
Many of our Regional Ambassadors work for partner organizations that focus on environmental stewardship, conservation, and education throughout LA County, from summit to sea. Today, we are spotlighting some of our amazing Regional Ambassadors from each region!
Dave Weeshoff, San Fernando Valley Audubon Society
“In Los Angeles County alone, we can see well over 270 species of birds each year. Bird watchers enjoy sharing their observations, and so I learn each week where unusual sightings occur, including our seashores, lagoons, harbors, parks, marshes and of course our magnificent San Gabriel Mountains. The additional biodiversity of this high elevation watershed and its forests is easily accessed by way of the Angeles Crest Highway, which begins not far from my home, and is inviting to many resident and migratory birds throughout the year.”
Dave’s favorite cleanup site and happy place, the San Gabriel Mountains, has unfortunately been affected by the Bobcat Fire. While this put a hold on his cleanup efforts throughout Coastal Cleanup Month, he has been enjoying the local parks and cleaning his neighborhood when he can.
Kelsey Reckling, Pasadena Audubon Society
Kelsey and Pasadena Audubon Society are using Coastal Cleanup Month to highlight the Arroyo, the natural watershed that starts in the San Gabriel Mountains and comes all the way down into our neighborhoods. It is home to many species of wildlife, but also a spot where trash often accumulates. Pasadena Audubon Society is encouraging members and anyone else in the area to help clean our mountain areas, the Arroyo, and our neighborhoods.
“I love driving up to the San Gabriels here in Los Angeles because it is so close to us, but it feels like you’re entering a new world. You get to see different plant species and different bird species at higher elevations and also get to have a new perspective,” said Kelsey. “On a clear day, you can look out and see downtown Los Angeles and all the way to the ocean, highlighting our different natural communities.”
Neighborhoods & Waterways
Keyla Treitman, Oak Park Unified School District
Keyla has been a resident of Oak Park for 27 years and chaired the Oak Park Unified School District’s Environmental Education and Awareness Committee for 11 years.
“I feel we all have an obligation to leave a place cleaner than when we got there, a motto the Girl Scouts taught me long ago. Sustainability is a key concept that is important for children to learn so they can do their part to help. By educating them, it can become a natural extension of their daily lives.”
Keyla shared about Coastal Cleanup Month with the school district to encourage families to go out and clean their happy place. They are also working with the County of Ventura and volunteers to refresh the curb signs that read, “Don’t dump. Drains to creek.” at all of the storm drain inlets within Oak Park.
Mika Perron, Audubon Center at Debs Park
Mika is spearheading the Coastal Cleanup Month efforts for the Audubon Center at Debs Park. To help protect bird habitat around the LA River, Mika and her team are participating in cleanups along the LA River in the Elysian Valley and Atwater Village area. They are also cleaning up and maintaining the various habitat enhancement sites along the river, in order to continue building sustainable habitat for birds and other wildlife.
“Our neighborhoods and waterways provide valuable habitat for local and migrating birds, while also providing a gateway for people to learn more about our urban ecosystem. Even if it’s just observing a few crows outside your window, or catching a glimpse of the rushing LA River when it rains, our neighborhoods and waterways provide a place where people can interact with nature in their everyday lives. Local waterways like the LA River are especially important to us because they connect many different neighborhoods and communities – they are not only an important resource for connecting people to nature, but also for connecting people to each other.”
Wetlands & Beaches
Patrick Tyrrell, Friends of Ballona Wetlands
Patrick grew up in Playa del Rey with the Ballona Wetlands as his backyard, inspiring a life-long passion for wetlands and wildlife. He turned that passion into a career by joining the team at Friends of Ballona Wetlands, and is our Wetlands Ambassador for Coastal Cleanup Month.
“Wetlands provide habitat to an amazing array of plants and animals – they are the world’s biological hotspots. They provide food and shelter that are critical to the survival of many species. Every time I travel, I always look up the local wetlands in the area I am visiting, as I know that I will get to see some amazing birds and wildlife.”
Patrick and the Friends of Ballona Wetlands staff are spending the month of September picking up trash along the Ballona Creek levees and Del Rey Lagoon. They are also cleaning up near the Least Tern colony on Venice Beach to ensure that they are not disturbed by the beach groomers that would normally rake the beach every morning.
Brittney Olaes, Roundhouse Aquarium
Brittney joined us as a Beaches Ambassador from the Roundhouse Aquarium in Manhattan Beach, where she gets to share her passion for the ocean and marine life with her local community.
“When imagining the beautiful vast ocean, it’s hard to narrow down its importance. The ocean is home to countless marine life and habitats. It provides comfort and relaxation to those who visit, jobs and security for those who depend on it, and food and supplies for those who survive off it. Even for those who do not directly interact with the ocean, the ocean is making an impact in our lives. From climate regulation to oxygen production, the ocean affects all life around the world.”
The Roundhouse Aquarium is celebrating Coastal Cleanup Month by virtually educating the community about where trash comes from and where it ends up, and encouraging environmental and community stewardship. They are also running a #TrashChallenge to challenge everyone to pick up trash every day in September.
Carl Carranza, Cabrillo Marine Aquarium
Carl’s lifelong passion for the ocean and marine life led him to become an Educator with
Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. He has been involved with Coastal Cleanup Day for 15 years, and this year, he is one of our Beach Ambassadors.
“Ever since I was a child, I was in love with the ocean, especially tidepools. They have always been a source of joy and wonder for me, and ultimately led me to my degree in marine biology. The ocean is a place I can always reconnect to nature and frees my imagination,” said Carl.
A big thank you to all of our Regional Ambassadors for helping make Coastal Cleanup Month a success! If you’re interested in getting involved and helping protect our watershed and coastline from wherever you live, visit healthebay.org/coastalcleanupmonth.
More Ways to Get Involved this Coastal Cleanup Month:
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.
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?
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
California has long been a leader in fighting plastic pollution, and our leadership can have rippling impact. When we banned single-use plastic bags in 2016, we were the first state to do so. Now, eight states have done it. It’s up to us to continue to push solutions to an issue that is devastating our oceans and frontline communities.
The California Recycling and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act of 2020 is a California ballot initiative aimed at reducing plastic pollution, restoring and protecting environments harmed by plastic pollution, and increasing recycling. Among other objectives, this initiative would:
Reduce the amount of single-use plastic sold in CA by 25% by 2030
Ensure the remaining is truly recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2030
Create a “plastics tax”: a fee on plastic producers that will help fund the state’s recycling and composting infrastructure, and restore environments impacted by plastic pollution
Phase out the use of Expanded Polystyrene (so called “Styrofoam”) takeout containers in favor of more sustainable alternatives
If passed by voters, it would be the strongest regulation on disposable plastics in the country. This groundbreaking legislation was introduced in 2019 by Recology, a trash and recycling hauling company, and is supporting by numerous environmental organizations including Heal the Bay.
To get on the statewide ballot in 2022, this initiative needs signatures from California voters, and LOTS of them! As of now, the initiative is on track to qualify thanks to signatures from hundreds of thousands of Californians, but we need your help to get it past the finish line. Because signature gatherers have been pulled off of the streets due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are bringing the signature gathering to you. We have fortunately been given an extension on the deadline to get these signatures in, giving us a second chance to get the signatures we need.
To send in your signature, follow these simple steps. It’s as easy as PRINT. SIGN. MAIL. DONE. Please send in your signatures by the end of September for them to count.
You will need to print, staple, and submit all 8 pages (double-sided is ok)
Review the text if you want more information on the initiative
FILL IN YOUR INFORMATION
On Page 8, fill in the county that you live in and are registered to vote in
Fill in the signature box with your Printed Name & Residence Address, Signature, City & Zip Code
Fill in the Declaration of Circulator box with your: Printed Name & Residence, Address Date range in which you obtained your signature(s) (can be the same day), Date you executed (signed) the Declaration of Circulator (must be signed last), Location of signing, and Signature
MAIL YOUR COMPLETED PETITION
Place the signed, stapled petition (all 8 pages) in an envelope and seal securely
Use 2 Forever® letter stamps for a standard letter envelope. Use 3 Forever® stamps for a “9×12” envelope (add 2 Forever® stamps per additional petition included after the first)
Place in outgoing mailbox to the following address:
Why do we have to print all 8 pages? That seems wasteful.
We agree, and we wish it was possible to submit signatures digitally just as much as you do. Unfortunately, the signature gathering protocol set by the state where many signatures are collected on one page by hired employees has been around for a very long time, and up until this year, had never been an issue. COVID-19 changed all that, and the state did not have time to set up a digital signature gathering method that would effectively count and verify signatures. So, printing and mailing is the best method the state has available to collect signatures at a safe distance.
Can others sign the same petition I print out?
Absolutely. We highly recommend having everyone in your household and shelter in place circle sign the same petition that you do. This will save paper AND get more signatures in.
Why won’t it be on the ballot until 2022?
Ballot initiatives appear on the ballot every two years, and this bill didn’t meet the deadline to make it onto this year’s ballot, so our next opportunity is in 2022.
Although they are very similar, these bills focus on ALL disposable materials, not just plastics, and use different methods to reduce them. These bills also must be passed by the California legislature, whereas California voters themselves can pass the ballot initiative.
Our ocean needs our help—from fighting for environmental justice and urgently addressing the climate crisis that impacts People of Color and low-income communities at disproportionate levels, to blocking a new federal attack on Marine Protected Areas that dampens progress for wildlife biodiversity, to stopping fossil fuel development and single-use plastic manufacturing that pollute our water, air, soil, and bodies. There is so much work to do.
Together, we need to tune in to the waves to recognize how much our ocean provides for us and raise awareness about our individual and collective duties to protect safe and healthy water for all people and marine life.
Support Ballot Initiative Against Plastic Waste
We have a chance to bring a groundbreaking plastic pollution reduction act directly to voters on the 2022 ballot in California, but to get it there we need signatures from people like you.
The California Recycling and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act is on track to qualify for the statewide 2022 ballot thanks to signatures from hundreds of thousands of Californians. This act would require a 25% source reduction of single-use plastics by 2030 AND hold Big Plastic financially accountable for their pollution.
Help us get this on the ballot and up for a vote: Print. Sign. Mail. Done.
Fight the Federal Rollback on a Marine Protected Area
Our nation is in crisis. Yet quietly, in the background and for the first time in history, the federal administration has rolled back protections on a National Marine Sanctuary. The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument protects ocean biodiversity and is invaluable to marine resource protection.
Sign this petition and urge for the reintroduction of protections for this marine protected area.
Heal the Bay stands in solidarity with the Black community demanding justice for ongoing tragedies caused by systemic racism as well as social and environmental injustices.
Black, Indigenous, and People of Color need to be protected. Black lives matter. The fight for this protection starts in our hearts by examining our own privileges and roles in systemic racism.
Environmental and social justice issues are intertwined. And it must be acknowledged that the hard work to dismantle systemic environmental and social barriers should not be a burden that continues to fall on BIPOC and marginalized communities who are most impacted by these issues. We, who have access to a clean and safe environment, must fight for access, equity, and safety for all.
Today’s Knowledge Drops webinar is all about the history of #WorldOceansDay and the Giant Sea Bass. Dive in with us to learn more about the ocean’s benefits, all the life it supports, and our duty to use its resources sustainably and equitably. Tune in at 1:30PM PDT.
In her previous blog post, Heal the Bay Outreach Coordinator Danielle Furuichi discusses her journey to the environmental justice movement, sharing key concepts and context about environmental justice issues. She also shares the role each one of us can play through transformative action. Here, she dives into a visual illustration of what equality, equity and justice can look like within the environmental movement.
Systemic and structural racism, harmful stereotypes, and a lack of access to education, economic status, and health resources often leave people of color out of the conversations that impact them, specifically about land use, natural resources, and environmental policy decision-making. As the environmental movement tackles climate change, water and air quality, public health, and plastic pollution issues, we all must consider the social inequities, inequalities, and injustices that are inherently intertwined with these issues. Although these words are sometimes used interchangeably, it is important to understand their differences. I will use coastal access and the graphic below to illustrate the concepts of equality, equity, and justice.
Equality is the condition under which all individuals receive uniform treatment, resources, and opportunities (Georgia Institute of Technology). The faulty assumption that underlies equality is that everyone has identical needs and would benefit equally from an even distribution of resources.
One example of a policy that emphasizes equality is the California Coastal Act of 1976. This policy outlawed private beaches in California so that by law, everyone has equal access to CA beaches. However, despite this legal action, physical and systemic barriers like geographical distance, lack of transportation, and historic segregation of coastal areascontinue to prevent equal and full access for all to California beaches.
In the first segment of the illustration above, three individuals are treated equally and given the same resources – a uniform box – to access the beach view. Although one box is enough for the first two individuals, it is not sufficient to support the third individual, who remains without access to the beach view. A “one-size-fits-all” approach ignores specific needs, structural barriers, and systemic issues that impact some communities and individuals at disproportionate levels.
What is equity?
Equity is the proportionate distribution of and access to resources. Unlike equality, equity accounts for individuality and acknowledges the historical underrepresentation of certain communities, yet it fails to actively deconstruct the underlying systemic barriers that create and contribute to current inequities (UC Berkeley Initiative for Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity).
Let’s return to the previous example of the California Coastal Act of 1976, which provides equal access to California’s beaches. Equal, not equitable, is the key word here because equitable access requires extra steps. We can create equitable coastal access by providing educational programs and grant funding that brings people to the beach who wouldn’t have the resources to otherwise. This solution acknowledges that beaches are not uniformly accessible to everyone, and that an additional, targeted allocation of resources is required to make coastal access more equitable.
In the second segment of the illustration, the individuals are given a different number of boxes based on their needs, resulting in beach views for all three individuals. However, this solution fails to address the reason the beach view is inaccessible in the first place – the fence.
What is justice?
Unlike equality and equity, justice combats historic inequality and inequity while dismantling the systemic and structural barriers that are responsible for those inequities.
What would a just approach to ensuring full and equitable access to the California coast look like? To answer this question, we have to look at the fundamental reasons why there is unequal beach access in the first place. Who has access to the coast and why?
If we look at coastal access in Los Angeles, we find that racist policies and gentrification are the root cause of inequitable access. This legacy of racism and discrimination began with the abuse, enslavement, and displacement of Indigenous people, including the Chumash and Tongva peoples who were the first to live in the Malibu and Los Angeles Basin areas.
In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the legacy of slavery pervaded as Black people were harassed and kicked off of beaches surrounding Santa Monica. Practices like redlining – the division and ranking of neighborhoods based on race and socioeconomic status – prevented people in low-income communities and communities of color from buying homes, properties, or establishing businesses along the coast. On top of that, these communities were subject to additional discriminatory and unjust rent practices.
The impact of these racist and discriminatory policies is clear today, as the demographic of those who live on and near the coast is primarily wealthy and white. Now, gentrification continues to cause the displacement of low-income communities and communities of color that live near the coast, parks, greenspace, and the LA River – and Black people still face harassment while trying to enjoy nature.
A just solution to coastal access requires the dismantling of systemic racism, prejudice, and inequitable policies. Removing “the fence” takes time and intention. Board by board, piece by piece, link by link. The process requires education and action to make the necessary changes to break down systemic and structural barriers that form injustices.
In the third segment of the illustration, the primary barrier and need for additional resources has been removed. Without the fence, the beach view is completely accessible for everyone.
Why did we create this image?
We created this illustration to educate our community and to encourage everyone to think more critically about the environmental movement. When we think of the environmental movement, what comes to mind? When we protect our natural resources, who are we protecting them for? Or from? Who benefits from their protection?
It is easy to see environmental issues and their solutions through a lens shaped by our own privileges and experiences. But like many other social, political, and economic issues, environmental issues are complex. Solutions to environmental problems must take into account social, political, historical, and economic factors, and to be truly transformative they must also be equitable and just.
When I first started my journey in the environmental field, my idea of environmentalism was purely ecological. I viewed nature as a place where I would escape to, rather than something I was a part of. My definition of the environment did not include my home or my community. But I now understand how this view is incomplete; where we live, where we work, and where we recreate are all parts of our environment, and ecological and human health are equally important and inextricably linked.
The way I view environmental issues now is much more holistic, but to get there, I had to zoom out and take a broader look at my identity and my view of the world. I realized how my privilege shaped my perspectives, and the only way to see past it was to acknowledge it. I grew up in a middle class family, in a house, with two, supportive, cisgender, heterosexual parents. We had a car and I frequently went to the beach and traveled to national parks around the state. I saw myself as separate from nature and the environment because my immediate environment was not in danger nor was my access to it threatened. Environmental injustices did not impact my family or my community. But my experience is vastly different from that of others.
I share this with the hope that you will also reflect on your view of environmental issues and the role your identity and experiences have played in shaping your perspective. Here is some of what I have learned in reshaping my own:
At the most basic level our environment is what surrounds us. Access to clean water, sanitation, clean air, and safe and stable housing are all essential for us to have a healthy environment. When one or more of these are impaired, both human and ecological health are endangered. All too often ecological and human health are pitted against each other: increasing green space in a community drives up the cost of living there, displaces residents, and leads to gentrification. A beautiful, clean, thriving environment does not and should not have to come at the expense of any community.
Environmental justice encompasses the idea that human and ecological health are interconnected and that all people should be a part of the decision-making process when it concerns their environment. The 17 Principles of Environmental Justice, established at the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991, is the “defining document” of what environmental justice looks like for the Earth and all of its inhabitants. It concludes, if the environmental movement excludes human health and social justice, the movement is incomplete. There is intrinsic value in protecting the environment – an environment that includes people who are healthy and cared for. I encourage you to read through the 17 Principles and use them to expand your view of the environmental movement. We also have to take a look at history to further understand the relationship between human health, social justice, and the environment.
Now that I have this new perspective, what do I do with it? And how do I incorporate what I’ve learned into my work? I am continually learning about myself, environmental justice, and my place in the environmental movement. I’ve learned recently about the value of transformative over transactional practices and where true impact lies. Transformative practices take time and produce long-lasting change, while transactional practices are merely an exchange, and their impacts are short-term and insignificant.
Danielle giving a beach talk at a Suits on the Sand cleanup. Photo by Victor Fernandes.
I have taken a critical look at the programs I manage at Heal the Bay – Suits on the Sand, Speakers Bureau, and Club Heal the Bay – to see how I can make these truly transformative. I started by educating myself and building meaningful connections and relationships with program participants. I continue to share what I’ve learned and hold myself accountable for transformative programming and an inclusive and holistic approach to environmental issues. I held an Environmental Justice Youth Summit for local middle and high school students, created an Environmental Justice-focused Suits on the Sand, and helped create more inclusive volunteer trainings. But I am still only at the beginning of my journey. Social and environmental issues stem from institutional and systemic racism, so I must check my privilege and be actively anti-racist and intentional in weaving equity and justice into my work.
In the next blog post, I will break down the concepts of equality, equity, and justice, as I look at transformative action in the environmental movement.
I have found the following timelines helpful in connecting public health, civil rights, and the environmental movement in the United States:
In part two of this two-part blog post, our Heal the Bay team dives into the causes and impacts of climate change. Check out part one.
Why is it critical for us to make a strong commitment to climate action now? Well, to start, we are emitting 152 million tons of green-house-gas (GHG) pollution into our atmosphere every single day. Oceans have been our buffer for decades, absorbing much of this air pollution and heat, not to mention all of the stormwater pollution, plastic, and other contaminants that end up washing out to the coast.
Our persistent and destructive actions have altered the oceans’ natural processes. Absorption of GHGs has changed the pH of our oceans causing ocean acidification, which negatively impacts the entire marine ecosystem. Rising ocean temperatures affect ocean circulation, which not only prevents efficient transport of nutrients but also makes it harder for the ocean to continue to naturally absorb our GHGs.
As we continue to dump pollution into our environment, we have begun to feel the impacts of this climate crisis here on dry land, as well, with longer droughts, more intense storms, erosion along our shorelines from sea level rise, air pollution, more devastating fire seasons, and an increase in record breaking temperatures contributing to the impact of widespread heat islands (urban areas that are much hotter than their rural or natural surroundings because of human activity). As a result, we are facing heat and flood related deaths, food shortages, and an increased spread of disease.
Professor Hugh Montgomery acknowledged climate change as amedical emergency back in June 2015, but the fact is we have been experiencing a climate induced emergency worldwide for decades. We are all impacted by climate change; however, the burden of these negative impacts is not distributed equally across communities.
A history of racially discriminatory land and environmental policies has caused an unjust and disproportionate impact on overburdened communities. We are seeing this disparity in the current pandemic and it continues to be felt in the climate crisis.
Low-income communities of color have significantly less access to parks and green space, which exacerbates the heat island effect. And despite the fact that higher-income households have a larger carbon footprint, the highest concentration of oil wells in Los Angeles are in low-income neighborhoods whose residents face higher rates of health-related problems as a result. These disproportionate and location-specific rates of health-related problems like asthma and upper respiratory illness are direct consequences of systemic environmental racism, and the reason low-income communities of color are at a higher risk to contract and die from COVID-19. To amplify this burden, the same communities also bear significant socioeconomic impacts as a result of the response to this pandemic.
Additionally, a lack of community representation in local government and decision-making processes makes adequate access to resources to prepare for and combat the impacts of climate change even more difficult. The compounding social, economic, and environmental impacts of climate change make just, sustainable, and immediate climate action vital.
How is Heal the Bay Fighting for Systemic Climate Action?
In addition to calling for individual actions, Heal the Bay is taking our own climate action now by demanding systemic changes.
We push for climate resilient policies within local city and county offices as well as many state agencies like the State Water Resources Control Board, the Fish and Game Commission, the Coastal Commission, and the Ocean Protection Council. We track the activities of each agency so that we can advocate for science-based climate actions such as creating sustainability plans, setting aggressive goals to address ocean acidification and deoxygenation, and approving a strong MS4 Permit to reduce the pollution that exacerbates those issues.
We also advocate for the restoration of our ecosystems that have the ability to buffer against climate change by sequestering carbon, reducing the heat island effect, and protecting us from flooding. Our work on Los Angeles River ecological health, Ballona Wetlands restoration, and Marine Protected Areas all serve to create healthy watersheds and a thriving ocean, natural climate buffers, and important natural resources on which we depend.
In addition, we engage in programs to implement environmentally friendly and sustainable projects like wastewater recycling and stormwater capture that provide multiple benefits (improving our water quality, increasing our water supply, restoring our watersheds, etc.). These projects not only help us prepare for the impacts of the climate crisis, but they also restore natural processes that can help us to fight climate change. In addition, we actively oppose expensive and environmentally harmful projects like ocean water desalination, so we can put our limited resources toward more sustainable multi-benefit projects.
Of course, the greatest asset we have is YOU: people who read our blogs, people who volunteer at cleanups, people who come by our table at public events or visit Heal the Bay Aquarium, people who invite us to speak at schools and events, people who take the time to learn and then share their knowledge with others.
To overcome the climate crisis in a way that is just and sustainable, we need both individual action and systemic change. But, most importantly, we all must acknowledge how injustices in our communities affect the impact of, and our responses to, climate change in order to create a resilient future for all.