It Takes a Village: Local Activists Organize to Clean-up LA

A number of clean-ups around Los Angeles are scheduled this spring, and in order for each to be successful the community’s participation is crucial. A “Team Effort” for clean water is exemplified in the interviews below, because their clean-up efforts are what help to make the vision of pollution-free rivers, lakes and oceans a reality.

Ida Tallala, Founder of the Echo Park Trash Abatement Project (TAP), which has received City of Los Angeles Stormwater program support for her organization, talks about her community activism. The TAP project began in mid-2006 and Ida consults with a number of people and organizations in the community to get her projects accomplished. Ida recently spoke with the Stormwater Program about the work she is doing.

Stormwater Program (SP): What inspired you to get involved in Echo Park?
Ida Tallala: It is difficult for me not to get involved. I love my Echo Park community and have a deep respect for the environment. The two interests are served on the issue of keeping trash out of storm drains. It became clearer to me over time that trash was accumulating throughout Echo Park. In addition, the traditional wire mesh trash cans filled up rapidly and allowed trash to escape its confines. Escaping trash got into the storm drains. For the general public this was not an issue as the assumption was that storm drains were for conveying trash and runoff, many did not know that the storm drains discharged into Echo Park Lake. Our lake is one of the most polluted bodies of water in urban Los Angeles, and I believe this has caused the demise of the Lake’s famed Lotus flowers.

SP: What are some anti-litter projects that you’re currently working on?
Ida Tallala: My research into trash containers led me to stumble upon an innovative solar operated compactor-trash can known by all as BigBelly®. It is durable and due to compaction, holds four times as much trash as a regular trash can!
In a competitive grant project from the Office of Community Beautification, Echo Park TAP was awarded a full grant towards the purchase of two Solar BigBelly® Compactor Trash Cans with attached recycling units for cans and glass.
We plan to announce trash removal at specific times so that the public can satisfy their curiosity as well as become partners in the effort against trash.

SP: To what do you attribute the success of TAP?
Ida Tallala: It has been a journey that has had the assistance of many. I am indebted to all at the City of LA Stormwater Program for their assistance in the process. Also I must give kudos to Heal the Bay for its outstanding training programs, educational materials and the opportunity they provided me to assist communities in understanding the deadly march of inland trash through its inland California Coastal Clean Up Day events.

In 2008, Echo Park TAP collaborated with Central City Action Committee and several others. More than 180 volunteers collected more than 1,000 pounds of trash and 5,017 cigarette butts. On September 20, 2008, we were assisted by Council President Eric Garcetti and Commissioner Cynthia Ruiz, President, Board of Public Works. As I noted, the City’s Stormwater program has provided support at a number of levels as has the Bureau of Sanitation. For small fledgling groups such as Echo Park TAP, realizing goals requires accessing information and expertise. A series of clean ups and lectures is planned and a welcome celebration for Solar BigBelly®. The community is encouraged to participate.

Commissioner Cynthia M. Ruiz, President of the City of Los Angeles Board of Public Works, and chairperson of the Keep Los Angeles Beautiful (KLAB) Advisory Board, explains why she feels it is important for community members to join local clean-ups.

SP: Why should people get involved in clean-ups?
Commissioner Ruiz: Neighborhood clean-up events bring a sense of pride and ownership to one’s community, which in turn raises awareness and encourages people to take ownership in their neighborhoods. However, this team-building is only one component of these great events; another is the effect such efforts have on the local environment. Our waterways get clogged full of litter every day, so getting out and cleaning them up has a direct impact on the health of Los Angeles and the ocean where street litter ends up after flowing through the City’s stormdrain system. I really cannot imagine a better way to build community and restore our environment than by joining a local clean-up in your area.

SP: What’s the Great American Cleanup?
Commissioner Ruiz: The Great American Cleanup is organized by Keep America Beautiful and is the nation’s largest community improvement program, which takes place annually from March 1 through May 31, involving an estimated three million volunteers and attendees across the country. We hope to have a substantial turnout in Los Angeles. Activities this year will include beautifying parks and recreation areas, cleaning seashores and waterways, picking up litter, planting trees and flowers, and conducting educational programs and litter-free events.

Andrea Ambrose and John Lobato, Co-Founders of Los Angeles Neighborhood Clean Up Project (LANCUP), talk about their organization. LANCUP was started in November, 2008 and organizes local residents in frequent clean-up events around the city.

SP: How did you first get involved in your local community and what was your motivation for doing so?

Andrea Ambrose and John Labato: The two of us were driving down Virgil Avenue on the border of Silver Lake and East Hollywood and we started talking about how much trash was on the streets in that area. A couple of weeks later, we drove down the same street and saw that there was even more trash that had accumulated, so we decided to just go to Home Depot, buy some brooms, and start cleaning up the streets ourselves. People on Virgil probably thought we were crazy those first few times that we went out to clean, but over time we got people to come out and help and after a number of events we have gathered a great group of community volunteers who help at clean-ups. Since that time, we have worked with the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council and the Greater Echo Park and Elysian Park Neighborhood Council in organizing events. Everybody has been really enthusiastic about helping out and volunteering.

SP: What are your plans for the future? What projects do you have planned?

Andrea Ambrose and John Labato: We are planning on expanding our geographic reach to other areas of Los Angeles. We are always looking for people who live in different neighborhoods to act as Neighborhood Coordinators, to help us plan events. We have also started a campaign to get more trash cans installed in our area. When we were cleaning up on Virgil, we walked five blocks before running into a trash can. We figure that part of the reason there is so much trash is due to the fact that there are not enough trash cans. As parts of Los Angeles become more walkable, the City needs to compensate and install more trash cans. Our local businesses and city council members seem pretty enthusiastic about the idea—the biggest (and most obvious) problem is money. Installing a new trash can costs about $10,000. We are considering throwing a fundraiser with the help of local businesses.
Keeping our communities clean is a team effort! We encourage readers to find a local clean-up and volunteer. Bring friends and family and help make Los Angeles a healthy, clean place to live.
To see a full listing of upcoming clean-up events, please visit our online calendar. We update the clean-up calendar with events that are taking place all over the City. If you would like to submit your clean-up for inclusion on the calendar, please contact us at [email protected]


[email protected]


[email protected]

TAP: [email protected]


Comments (2)

  1. Chie Nakamura
    May 4th, 2012 at 10:44 am

    I think more manufacturing company have to involved in this projects! Pet bottle company, steloform company, plastic bag company, and so force. Their ” profit” is become the “trash.” They make more many, as we have more trash in town. We need more “recycle machine” not trash cans. We could have account to accumulate points for start of ACan or Bottle. Most people don’t know they are paying “recycle fee” up front, and able to redeem them if they took them to recycle. Its manufacture company responsibility to educate consumer, what to do after consume their products.
    The convenience of “potable” is major issue of beatify our town. I hope you have power to make company move. To do so, They can rise their company image, thus, we would have less trash in town, and most of all, we can rise education level of citizen’s responsibility!

    • LA Stormwater
      May 9th, 2012 at 8:52 am

      Thanks for the comment, Chie. We agree with you that disposing of trash properly and recycling does reduce and eliminate trash in our City. However, not only does less trash in our streets mean clean neighborhoods, it means cleaner rivers and beaches! Thanks for doing your part in keeping our neighborhoods and water safe and clean!

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