That's the approach southern California is trying
to get a handle on. As early as the 1980s, Los Angeles County, spurred
by the amount of trash washing up on area beaches, installed booms
on the Los Angeles River and Ballona Creek to capture some of the
debris before it reaches the coast. More recently, following a lawsuit
by environmental groups, county and city governments within Los Angeles
County were ordered by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control
Board to completely eliminate all trash runoff into the watershed
by the end of 2012.
That requirement has forced local governments in
the county to reassess municipal waste and water policies and practices
(for example, how much trash escapes during city trash collection?)
and spurred installation of improved storm drain screens and catch
basins, as well as development of better screen technologies and
designs. It has also led to new permitting systems for municipal
and manufacturer facilities, greater enforcement efforts against
illegal discharges, and the targeting of trash "hot spots." Under
the water board's plan, government agencies are also required to
undertake public education and outreach to cut down on litter and
encourage people to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
In Orange County, the Earth Resource Foundation
in 2004 launched a "Campaign Against the Plastic Plague," with
the goal of eliminating single-use throwaway plastic containers,
particularly plastic bags. Students in 16 high schools have formed
Earth Resource youth clubs to tackle environmental projects that
include cleaning up their campus. The Newport Harbor High club got
its school to eliminate polystyrene foam (often referred to as styrofoam)
from the food service; now students are working to convince nearby
cities to ban polystyrene.
"We're teaching environmental responsibility where you live,
work, and play," says Lindsey Payne, the group's campaign coordinator.
"The public is way, way out in front of the
government on this one," Moore says. "If the people lead,
the leaders will follow, but we've got a lot of leading to do."
On another front in the growing citizens' war against
plastic is Californians Against Waste, an environmental research
and advocacy group that spearheaded the passage of California's bottle
bill, which imposed a deposit fee on beverage containers and has
reclaimed nearly 200 billion containers since its passage in 1986.
"We're encouraging manufacturers to play a greater role to reduce
waste from plastic bags and containers," says executive director
Mark Murray. The group is asking manufacturers and retailers to commit
to cutting plastic waste in half by reducing the amount of plastic
produced and by recycling.
Monetary incentives are also being tried, and some
have proven effective in reducing use and encouraging recycling.
Ireland levied a 15-cent tax on plastic bags in 2002 and within the
first five months saw their use cut by 90 percent as people switched
to reusable bags. In California, a statewide fee on plastic bags
and disposable cups was proposed in 2003, but the bill, by Assemblyman
Paul Koretz, never made it out of committee. In San Francisco, the
Department of the Environment in 2002 proposed a 17-cent-per-bag
fee, to be paid by shoppers, but when that met with strong objections,
the city signed an agreement with several large supermarket chains
to reduce the number of all grocery bags distributed by 10 million
a year by the end of 2006. If this target isn't reached, the city
will reconsider the bag fee.