California communities are spending $428 million a year to keep plastic and other trash off the streets and keep it from polluting waterways and beaches, an environmental group said in a new report.
For many, “soda bottles, food wrappers, and cigarette butts are just forgotten bits of muck that hit the street and wash away, forgotten. That waste doesn’t just disappear though, and it is very expensive to clean up,” the Natural Resources Defense Council said in an “issue brief” about the litter problem.
The study, released on Aug. 28, was based on information supplied by 95 communities around the state on how much they spent on street sweeping; litter pickup; waterway and beach cleanup; storm drain cleaning and maintenance; installation of devices to trap trash that flows down storm drains with runoff, and public education programs about litter’s impact on waterways.
The communities ranged in size from around 700 residents to nearly 4 million and at various distances from rivers, streams, lakes and waterways. Together, they spent an estimated $428 million on litter management and debris reduction, or around $10.71 per resident, the study concluded.
Los Angeles topped the spending list with more than $36 million in annual costs, followed by San Diego with about $14 million and Long Beach at around $13 million.
Others in the top 10 for costs were San Jose, Oakland, Sacramento, Hayward, Merced, Redondo Beach and South Gate.
“Trash that pollutes our streets, beaches and waterways, costs local governments and California taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars every year,” Leila Monroe, senior attorney in the council’s oceans program, said in a statement. “That’s money down the drain that could otherwise be invested in schools, firefighters, police, or improving public parks and other open spaces.”
The study also said that actual prices of dealing with trash are likely to be much higher than estimated because the report didn’t include the cost of routine waste management and recycling at county and state levels.
In addition, it didn’t calculate losses to tourism caused by debris that can kill fish and other wildlife and damage habitat.
The report, produced for the council by Kier Associates, called for more measures to reduce trash, especially plastics, and notes that a number of counties and communities have banned single-use plastic bags and food containers. It also said communities should work with the state to limit litter discharges in waterways.
The council said California needs a program to share the growing cost of dealing with plastic trash between plastic producers, local governments and taxpayers.