Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Santa Monica Beach gets smart green trash cans -- that don't recycle

Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, Santa Monica beach got 500 new, spiffy trash cans with green features. In addition to reminding people not to litter, these cans come with a QR code that takes smartphone users to the new Santa Monica Beachcast — a mobile site with tips on keeping the beach clean, a quick signup feature for upcoming beach cleanups, information on beach water quality, and more.

However, these trash cans won’t let you recycle. That means everything put in these greener-themed trash cans will go straight to the landfill.

Why aren’t recycling options provided on Santa Monica Beach year round? “Santa Monica’s been very conservative in their distribution of common area recycling,” says Andrew Basmajian, communications coordinator for the City of Santa Monica’s Office of Sustainability. “A lot of people would like to see more [recycling bins]. It’s just that a lot of it gets stuck in committee. It’s a difficult thing to do. It’s very expensive to maintain the infrastructure.”

That said, beachgoers will have a recycling option when the busy beach season begins. In about two weeks, plastic recycling carts will be rolled out onto the sand, letting swimmers and sunbathers pick between the landfill and the recycling plant. “Because we have limited resources we go after the really big crowds. And obviously the big crowds are in the summer,” says Basmajian.

But recycling on the beach, busy season or not, still poses a lot of green problems. Beyond the issues of cost, there’s the issue of consumer awareness and, relatedly, efficacy. “It’s popular,” Basmajian says about recycling, but adds, “It’s not necessarily effective.” Much of the fast food containers that people believe to be recyclable, for example, actually are not — especially when contaminated with food and drink residue. “We end up collecting a lot of material that’s not worth the time and effort.”

What’s a would-be green Angeleno to do when visiting the beach? Basmajian advises thinking ahead to reduce waste in the first place.

“The most important thing to do when you’re visiting the beach is remember you’re visiting a wild open space,” says Basmajian. “It’s wilderness. A lot of people don’t equate the beach with wilderness, and if you treat the beach like you would a hike in a national forest — the local Angeles National Forest or Yosemite — if you treat it with the same respect, it’s more or less thinking and packing your lunch or packing your dinner or whatever it is with a little bit of a zero waste, pack it in, pack it out mentality.”

Of course, that mentality isn’t easy to adopt for everyone — especially for tourists who are getting food on the go, unaware of Santa Monica’s recycling rules. “Frankly, a lot of people … come and buy a whole bunch of fast food and leave it behind,” says Basmajian.

Santa Monica has made many efforts to reduce the worst forms of waste — includingbans on styrofoam and disposable plastic bags in the city. So plan ahead for your beach visit to reduce waste, use the recycling bins once they roll out later this month, and at the very least, don’t litter on the sand — with a little help from the new smart trash cans.

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Photos courtesy of Heal the Bay