Combating the Litter Problem is a Team Effort

Take a moment to think about the last time you saw a piece of litter on the ground. Did you see a soda can, a plastic bag or maybe even a cigarette butt? Aside from being an eye sore, litter also has a tremendous negative impact on our environment. Here in the Los Angeles area, whenever a piece of litter finds its way to the streets, it can end up in our storm drain system where stormwater can carry it all the way to the ocean.

Here’s a fact that may startle you. According to Californians Against Waste, people living in our state use 12 billion plastic bags every year. If you break it down, that is about 400 bags used every second! Far too many of these bags end up in places they shouldn’t be, such as the sidewalk or side of the road.

Plastic products do not biodegrade, they photodegrade, which means these products are broken down by the sun over long periods of time into even smaller pieces. As such, these plastic materials, when floating in the ocean after being washed through our storm drains, end up confusing turtles, birds and fish into believing they are food. Sadly, this confusion can lead to death for the animals that eat these pieces of plastic.

The Algalita Foundation, which monitors plastic debris levels in our ocean, estimates that 80% of marine debris comes from human activities on land. Of that, 65% comes from consumer used plastics that have been littered. While some of this plastic ends up washing up on our shores, much of it ends up swirling around the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, which is in the area of the North Pacific’s Subtropical Gyre. This vast zone acts as a vortex of sorts, where these plastic pieces get trapped and never leave.

How about another fact? You probably knew cigarette butts are litter, but did you know that a cigarette filter takes over 100 years to decompose? When cigarette butts are thrown out a car window or smashed into smoldering ash on a sidewalk, those filters can end up trashing our environment for decades to come. The non-profit CigaretteLitter.Org estimates that several trillion cigarette butts are littered worldwide every year!

The LA Stormwater Program is doing its best to combat the negative impact of litter in our waterways and at our local beaches. With the help of Prop O monies, we have installed numerous storm drain covers around the City, which helps to catch the loose litter in our gutters. However, sneaky litter still finds its way into our stormwater system after rainfalls and often ends up washing up on our shores as a result.

So what can you do about the litter problem? First, always properly dispose of your garbage and recyclable products. If a trash bin is overfull, take your waste somewhere else to dispose of it. Second, every month we list a number of cool community events where eco-minded people get together to pick up trash in their local neighborhoods. So, pick an event and volunteer from time to time!

Combating the litter problem is a team effort, we hope you join us by doing your part!

*Photo courtesy of The Guardian Newspaper

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