It's a problem we're familiar with. We see it everyday. Disposable cups, food wrappers and plastic bags. Cigarette butts. Trash builds up on street corners, in gutters, on trails, on highways and in parks. Litter is a problem that is virtually everywhere.
In 2012, the Bay Area Stormwater Management Agencies Association presented findings from a study of litter in the region that sought to quantify the magnitude of the problem. Estimates from that study suggested that 1 million to 1.6 million gallons of trash flow into local creeks and San Francisco Bay each year.
That's roughly 100,000 kitchen-sized garbage bags or enough to cover a football field 3 ½ feet deep in trash. This baseline study is helping municipalities to reduce trash, which is more than just an admirable goal.
The Regional Water Quality Control Board mandates Bay Area municipalities to reduce trash by 70 percent by 2017.
Why is litter a stormwater issue? Trash travels down storm drains untreated, polluting our creeks, the Delta, San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
It degrades water quality and adversely affects fish, wildlife, and aquatic habitats.
Since the 2012 data was released, much work has been done. Numerous cities have passed bans on plastic bags and plastic foam food containers, cleanup events are in full swing, and there are many community partnerships centered on litter reduction.
Education has also been done to encourage use of reusable cups and food containers to minimize trash from the start. While these efforts are positive and will help municipalities to meet their goals, there's one simple solution that has the potential to be even more effective: Don't litter.
Unlike the history of mercury and gold mining in the region that contributes to mercury levels in the Bay, litter is 100 percent preventable. Each person in the Bay Area -- adults and children alike -- can do something about it.
So as municipalities seek out innovative ways to meet the mandated goals, do your part. Hold on to that coffee cup until you get to a garbage can. Or, better yet, bring your own travel mug from home. And if you see trash on the ground, pick it up.
Geoff Brosseau is the executive director of the Oakland-based Bay Area Stormwater Management Agencies Association. BASMAA is a consortium of stormwater programs in the region. Learn more at www.baywise.org.